$6 Billion & Counting

Campaign spending is obscene. Can analytics help address the problem before the 2016 election?
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11/9/2012 |  3
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Lyndon_Henry
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Re: Incentives
Lyndon_Henry   11/15/2012 5:10:40 PM
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..

MNorth writes


How to we stop an avalanche of wasteful spending?  The only way I can think of is to change the incentives.  The problem is: I don't know how you do that.  If voters respond to attack ads by voting for the attacker, then negative ads will proliferate.


 

I agree that the volume of financial resources poured into political campaigning is outrageous — obscene, in my view.  Furthermore, these campaigns have largely become a war of lies, misrepresentations, and deceptive weasel rhetoric, so it sure looks like the public is tending to tune out ... of politics altogether in many cases.

As for Gary Johnson, "let the market rule" would seem to be a guiding principle of the Libertarian perspective, so I would not hold out for a breakthrough solution from that component of the political herd.

Moreover, it sure seems like the situation is getting worse, not better, especially with the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling (opening the floodgates for unlimited corporate investment in political campaigns).  In fact, court rulings have weakened the ability of trade unions to similarly collect money to contribute to campaigns, so the net effect is to goose corporate influence and power tremendously and skew the so-called "balance". 

It's hard to see how analytics could help, except for the analytics that are supposed to function within that spongy mass inside human craniums.

 

BethSchultz
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Re: Incentives
BethSchultz   11/14/2012 1:46:04 PM
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@mnorth -- Vegas comes to mind. Do we really need that glittering monstrosity in the middle of a pristine desert? No. Will the spending on and in Vegas ever stop. No. There are some American institutions -- politics and Vegas -- where the obscene spending simply won't stop. At least not in our lifetimes, I doubt.

mnorth
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Incentives
mnorth   11/14/2012 11:53:29 AM
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I am a big subscriber to the Freakonomian theory that people respond to incentives.  With you, I am appalled at the level of campaign spending and found the statistics you revealed about the good that could have been done with the money to be simultaneously heartbreaking and damning.  

When you cast the expenditures in the context of PolitiFact-style examinations of truth and mud-slinging, the waste becomes even more disheartening.

So if excessive campaign spending is so audaciously inhumane, why does it happen?  It happens because of Freakonomian incentives.  If every American hates negative campaign ads (a claim you hear thrown around nonchalantly every campaign season), then why do negative ads continue to proliferate?  Answer: because they're effective, so there's an incentive for candidates to participate in the practice.

Gary Johnson ran the most successful Libretarian campaign for president in history and still failed to garner even 1% of the U.S. popular vote.  If he had access to war chest level funding, almost certainly his share of vote would have been higher, and no doubt he'd have spent the money to make it so.

So, how do we fix it?  How to we stop an avalanche of wasteful spending?  The only way I can think of is to change the incentives.  The problem is: I don't know how you do that.  If voters respond to attack ads by voting for the attacker, then negative ads will proliferate.  If a third-party candidate can't get votes unless he or she buys their name into the public consciousness, then ad buys will continue in droves.

To wit, this is just a small part of Gary Johnson's thank you letter posted on his web site: "I will be traveling the country to give voice to Liberty. All those tasks, and many more, require funding. I really want you to be a part of what we will be doing over the next few weeks, and I hope you will go to GaryJohnson2012.com and help make sure we have the funding we need."

With this as the mentality, I take a pessimistic view and believe that only legislation could curb the spending avalanche, and that too is fraught with peril.

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