Campaign Effects in the 2008 Election: Money, Ads, and Mobilization

On Friday, October 31, 2008, CSDP and the Brookings Institution held the fourth of five seminars on this year's election: Campaign Effects in the 2008 Election: Money, Ads, and Mobilization.

Moderated by LARRY BARTELS, Director, Center for the Study of Democratic Politics, Donald E. Stokes Professor of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University, and THOMAS E. MANN, Senior Fellow, Governance Studies, The Brookings Institution, panelists were: MIKE ALLEN, Politico; ANTHONY CORRADO, Colby College; DIANA MUTZ, University of Pennsylvania; and LYNN VAVRECK, UCLA

Following is a small sampling of intriguing comments -- for the full transcript, click here.

Tony Corrado: With 3.1 million donors, a number that is continuing to grow substantially, [Obama's] in a position now where he will have more than twice as many donors as any presidential candidate in the past. In fact, he’s at a point where he has more donors to his campaign than the national parties each have as donors to their national party. So essentially he has become a party unto himself.
Larry Bartels: I think [the money is] something that worries many Americans. It doesn’t worry political scientists and I think shouldn’t worry people. If you think about the scope of governments and what’s at stake, the amount of money that we’re spending to decide who’s going to run the thing is really pretty modest, right. So we’re spending a billion dollars or $2 billion to decide who’s going to be in charge of a $700 billion bailout plus lots of other stuff that the government does. So I think in any absolute sense, or by comparison with the amount of money that major corporations spend on trying to sell you trivial stuff, the amount of money that’s spent on politics is really not problematic.
Lynn Vavreck: I’m going to start with a number, 80 percent. This is the number that I want you to think about. That’s the percentage of election outcomes you would get right if your guess depended only on the change in GDP from the quarters close to the election. Okay. So if you knew only that, only that single number, you would get the aggregate election outcome right 80 percent of the time. That's the puzzle -- what role can campaigns play in an environment where the structure is so powerful?

Diana Mutz: We found a very nice, very clear effect during the course of the pre-  to post-primary season, where peoples level of cynicism about the influence of money on politics and political outcomes became far less cynical. And this was equally true among Republicans and Democrats, and interestingly, it makes some sense when we think about the course of the primaries, that is, the candidates who were best funded at the very beginning were not the ones who ultimately walked away with the nominations. And that fact seems to have registered with the American public.So when we ask them questions about whether the best funded candidate wins or the best candidate wins or some mix of the two and so forth, although the American public is still cynical about the influence of money, at least as of the end of the primary season, the beginning of the general election season, they were far less so.

Mike Allen: If exactly what happens over the next four days is what we expect, it’ll be the first time in eight years, right, nothing leading up to this election has happened the way we thought.

About this site

The mission of Princeton’s Center for the Study of Democratic Politics at the Woodrow Wilson School is to promote empirical research on democratic processes and institutions.  That broad mandate has attracted a diverse collection of faculty, students, and visitors pursuing a wide variety of research topics. However, the American electoral process has been a recurrent focus of interest for many of the scholars associated with CSDP and a frequent topic of conferences, colloquia, and other events sponsored by the Center.  As the 2008 campaign unfolds, we thought it might be helpful and fun to collect the election-related research, analyses, and offbeat insights of our extended scholarly community, both for our own edification and as a resource for others interested in how political scientists are thinking about the election.  We welcome contributions, comments, and suggestions. For more about the people and activities of CSDP, please visit our website, To post a comment, click the "speech bubble."

  — Larry M. Bartels, Director

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