Skip to main content Skip to navigation
CAS in the Media Arts and Sciences Media Headlines

How Money Affects Elections

To quote the great political philosopher Cyndi Lauper, “Money changes everything.” And nowhere is that proverb more taken to heart than in a federal election, where billions of dollars are raised and spent on the understanding that money is a crucial determinant of whether or not a candidate will win.

This year, the money has been coming in and out of political campaigns at a particularly furious pace. Collectively, U.S. House candidates raised more money by Aug. 27 than House candidates raised during the entire 2014 midterm election cycle, and Senate candidates weren’t far behind. Ad volumes are up 86 percent compared to that previous midterm. Dark money — flowing to political action committees from undisclosed donors — is up 26 percent.

Travis Ridout.
Travis Ridout

Presumably, all that money is going to buy somebody an election. In reality, though, Lauper isn’t quite right. Political scientists, such as Travis Ridout, professor of government and public policy at Washington State University, say there’s not a simple one-to-one causality between fundraising and electoral success. Turns out, this market is woefully inefficient. If money is buying elections a lot of candidates are still wildly overpaying for races they were going to win anyway. And all of this has implications for what you (and those big dark money donors) should be doing with your political contributions.

Overall, advertising ends up being the major expense for campaigns, said Ridout. In 2012 and 2014, the average Senate campaign spent 43 percent of its budget on ads, he told me, and the average House campaign spent 33 percent. Presidential races spend an even bigger chunk of their budgets on advertising. In 2012, for instance, ads made up more than 70 percent of President Obama’s campaign expenses and 55 percent of Mitt Romney’s.

This is a really tough thing to study, Ridout said, and it’s only getting harder as media becomes more fragmented and it’s less clear who saw what ad how many times and in what context. But it’s also something people have been studying for a long time. Driven by fears that attack ads might undermine democracy by reducing voter turnout, researchers have been looking at the impacts of negative advertising since the 1990s. And, beginning around the mid-2000s, they began making serious progress on understanding how ads actually affect whether people vote and who they vote for. The picture that’s emerged is … well … let’s just say it’s probably rather disappointing to the campaigns that spend a great deal of time and effort raising all that money to begin with.

Find out more

FiveThirtyEight

Science Pub talk features feminism in research

The role feminism plays in addressing the gaps in established science will be discussed at the next Science Pub talk, hosted by Washington State University’s Entrepreneurial Faculty Ambassadors and the Palouse Discovery Science Center.

The talk titled, “Doing Better Science through the Other ‘F’ Word” will take place 6-7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 11, at Paradise Creek Brewery in downtown Pullman.

Samantha Noll.
Noll
Amy Mazur.
Mazur

Amy Mazur, a Claudius O. and Mary W. Johnson Distinguished Professor in political science at WSU and an associate researcher at the Centre d’Etudes Européennes at Sciences Po, Paris, and Samantha Noll, assistant professor in The School of Politics, Philosophy and Public Affairs, will map out the different feminist approaches that are used in current research. In addition to discussing the gaps in established scientific practices, they will present one specific area of feminist political science that has an integrative, comparative feminist agenda.

“Feminism in today’s ‘me too’ world often conjures up images of war of the sexes and man hating. For us, two feminist scientists whose work is situated in the social sciences and the humanities, the notion of feminism provides a fundamental starting point to make science more scientific,” said Mazur. “Taking a feminist approach to research also has the promise of making science more meaningful and better suited to solve today’s wicked problems.”

Find out more

WSU Insider

GOP to weaponize Pelosi and ‘San Francisco values’ in key California House races

Rep. Nancy Pelosi has starred in roughly one in every five Republican-made House campaign ads across the country this year, usually as a device to tar a fellow Democrat running in a conservative area as beholden to her “liberal San Francisco values.”

Some who study such things, however, say there’s no proof anti-Pelosi ads persuade voters who are on the fence.

Travis Ridout.
Travis Ridout

“I have not seen any research like that,” said Travis Ridout, a professor of political science at Washington State University and co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project.

“I suspect that these ads are less designed to appeal to the independent voters than to get their base to turn out,” Ridout said. “A lot of these candidates have decided that they are for Trump and this is their way to win: Get their voters out and the heck with the middle.”

Find out more

San Francisco Chronicle

Analysis: Late ballots swing to Cathy McMorris Rodgers throughout district, Spokane County in race against Lisa Brown

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers has gained ground in every corner of Spokane County as ballots have trickled in since election night and extended a district-wide lead that remains within striking distance for challenger Lisa Brown.

Among differences in this year’s election is the tenor of the campaign. McMorris Rodgers began airing negative ads painting Brown as a western Washington liberal early in the contest, before primary ballots had even hit mailboxes. Brown has responded with ads of her own criticizing McMorris Rodgers chiefly for her votes on health care.

It’s difficult to say what effect those ads had on Brown’s share of the late vote total, said Travis Ridout, professor of political science at Washington State University in Pullman.

“It is complicated, and it’s hard to untangle,” Ridout said. “I think there is some research that suggests that when people are exposed to negativity about a candidate, that they’re less enthusiastic about voting for that candidate.”

The McMorris Rodgers ads, attacking Brown’s record on taxes and public safety, probably didn’t sway those who had their minds made up to cast ballots for the Democrat, Ridout said. But for those who were still undecided and leaning toward Brown, the ads may have dissuaded them not to vote at all, he said, which could account for the difference in late numbers between her and McMorris Rodgers.

“People who are exposed to a lot of negative information about a candidate they already support, they’re more likely to just not vote,” he said.

Find out more

Spokesman-Review

Washington governor’s rising national profile prompts talk of presidential bid

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a two-term Democratic governor and former congressman, is best known outside the state for his focus on climate issues and renewable energy, but lately he’s getting notice for a different role: adversary to President Donald Trump.

And while he’s aware of the 2020 presidential chatter that includes his name, Inslee won’t talk about his 2020 ambitions—other than not ruling out a potential run for a third term as governor.

Cornell Clayton.
Cornell Clayton

Cornell Clayton, director of the Thomas S. Foley Institute of Public Policy and Public Service at Washington State University, said a governor from a small Western state would have an uphill battle in what could be a crowded Democratic field for president.

But he said Inslee’s public challenges of Trump have elevated his profile. Inslee’s embrace of issues like gay rights, defense of states’ legal marijuana markets and addressing climate change “put him on the map as a possible serious candidate,” he said.

Find out more

Lewiston Tribune