I thought I might post about health care tonight, but though there will obviously be electoral consequences of all this for the Senate, the action was really in the House.
Instead, I’ve been doing some more thinking on , where I pivoted off by Thomas Schaller to talk about the relative democratic merits of how the American and Canadian election cycles work. But beyond fairly inchoate issues of democracy, let’s talk a bit about money.
In 1975 David Mayhew wrote on election-seeking behaviours, dividing them into three distinct categories: advertising, credit-claiming and position-taking. Between them, he wrote, they account for everything a politician might ordinarily do in the process of seeking re-election, though the theory can easily be applied to non-incumbents as well.
All three should be pretty self-explantatory, but just in case:
- Advertising means any activity designed to build name-recognition, be it mail-outs or public appearances.
- Credit-claiming is any accomplishment which the politician believes will appeal to a relevant actor (be it voter or donor) for which he or she can reasonably claim credit.
- Position-taking means saying things which will appeal to a relevant actor.
Incumbents are obviously significantly advantaged at all three of these, though most candidates for the Senate, at least, have previously held office and thus have a record on which to fall back for purposes of credit-claiming and position-taking.
But to get back on track, we’re talking about the problem with off-year elections, so let’s talk about advertising. Credit-claiming and position-taking are largely tactical decisions in an election campaign; advertising is about money.
It’s not the nicest thing to think about, but money wins elections. Apart from the advertising issue, there’s the simple reality that money, lots of it and fast, will leave you not only with the snazziest campaign vehicles and the but also with the best talent on the market in campaign organizers.
There’s a reason nobody’s quite willing to count out Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev), despite his . Reid is .
So . How much and to what extent can be difficult to determine, though it clearly depends on the cost of the media and the size of the voting population.
You’d think this would be self-correcting, to an extent; after all, surely would-be and incumbent senators from bigger states have a bigger pool of donors to draw from? Well, the correlation as you’d think, and how much a candidate will actually end up spending depends a lot on his or her national prominence, the closeness of the race and the cost of the media market.
Reid’s polling is as low as -10 right now. Assuming, for the sake of argument, that that margin holds, his opponent will get maybe 52-53 per cent of the vote. In , about 582,000 people in Nevada voted, so in this scenario the Republican who beats Reid will do so with a bit more than 300,000 votes, with Reid clocking in at a bit less than a quarter of a million .
These numbers are made up, of course, but the real figures shouldn’t be far off regardless of who wins; it’s highly unlikely anyone will manage anything more than a barely comfortable victory in Nevada, and I’ve seen no real reason to believe turnout will be terribly different.
In any case, Reid has spent $7.6 million so far, and will easily spend that much again before he’s done.
This seems… excessive. Bad enough that not much more than 10% of the population of Nevada will vote for either candidate, with an expected difference in vote totals roughly equal to the population of , but to spend tens of millions of dollars in the process is a bit much even for Vegas.
in Canada too, though somewhat less per capita than the Non-fixed terms surely help, since our campaigns are .
I don’t really have a solution for any of this. But I think it’s a problem.