TV ads, campaign logos, staplers and staffers all cost money. But how much does all that spending actually do to help win an election?
The answer seems to be that it only helps if the candidates start with similar names and levels of name recognition. But even then, there are plenty of reasons why campaigns are so expensive.
A political campaign needs money to operate. That’s why fundraising is a primary focus of every candidate. Candidates often start by looking at their potential expenses and building a budget, then work backwards to determine how much they need to raise.
The most common source of campaign funds comes from the candidates and their close networks. That can include the candidate loaning themselves money or family and friends contributing to the campaign. Many campaigns also host fundraising events to increase the amount of donations they receive. These can range from backyard barbecues to golf tournaments, though the key is keeping event costs low to maximize revenue.
It can be awkward asking for donations, but donors know that they’re investing in a cause that they believe in. They don’t donate to get politicians into office, they donate to fight for the things they care about. That’s why it’s important for candidates to remain persistent with their fundraisers.
A campaign requires a team of people to work on all aspects of the operation. In addition to the obvious – finance, fundraising, media, IT, communications – a campaign needs people with specialized skills like legal, data and field operations.
Campaign staff also includes writers who help with writing policy plans, a creative team managing all visual communications (website, logo, print and digital ads), and merchandise production. In larger campaigns, a designated IT person is critical to ensure all systems are running smoothly.
A newer role on some campaigns is someone who manages the social media accounts of a candidate – this is a full-time job on some large national campaigns. Finally, most campaigns have attorneys on staff to address any legal issues that arise. This can be very expensive, especially if the campaign is facing challenges from another party or from a special interest group. This can lead to a lot of stress for the campaign and staff members.
A political campaign’s advertising is a key part of the strategy, but it can be expensive. The current ad blitz is expected to surpass previous election spending records. That may have something to do with the Supreme Court’s decision to allow corporations and labor unions to directly spend money on political campaigns, which makes it harder for candidates to compete without spending more.
Campaign ads are also costly because they require the use of a national campaign infrastructure, including campaign planes and buses for travel around the country. It is not uncommon for a presidential candidate to spend more than one billion dollars on his or her campaign.
While advertising is an important part of a political campaign, research has shown that it doesn’t have much impact on voters. That is because most voters acquire their partisan affiliation early in life and voting is generally seen as serving expressive or symbolic needs, rather than instrumental ones.
In addition to raising money and spending it, political campaigns must comply with a wide range of laws, regulations, reporting requirements and other legal issues. This can result in high legal fees.
It’s also expensive to travel the country and promote a candidate. Whether it’s hiring a jet to get you from place to place, or renting a bus, this can add up quickly.
Campaigns must also spend money on research and events. And of course, all these things require office space and technology.
All these expenses can be prohibitive for many candidates. This has led to a rise in the popularity of “outside” groups, which can raise unlimited amounts of money and spend it on political activities. There is a debate among political scientists about how much this money influences election outcomes. Some believe that greater spending correlates with a better chance of winning, while others argue that the higher amount simply compensates for weaknesses in other areas of a candidate’s campaign.