Washington, D.C.
Friday, October 31, 2008
Director, Center for the Study of Democratic Politics
Professor of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University
Senior Fellow, Governance Studies
Nonresident Senior Fellow, Governance Studies
Chief Political Correspondent, Politico
Nonresident Senior Fellow, Governance Studies
Assistant Professor of Political Science, University of California, Los
* * * * *
MR. MANN: Welcome to Brookings, and Happy Halloween.
We decided to really scare you by coming as ourselves up here. But I
think we ought to have a note of appreciation to our crack communication
staff for genuinely dressing up for Halloween. I hope you all were duly
We’re delighted to have you here, many of you back for the
fourth in a series of election seminars that my good friend and colleague,
Larry Bartels, and I have been running. These seminars are cosponsored
by the Brookings Opportunity 08 Project and Princeton’s
Woodrow Wilson School, and in particular it’s Center for the Study of
Democratic Politics.
Larry and I did a similar series four years ago. We had
sufficient fun doing it and interest that we have decided to repeat it. The
objective really is to see if we can’t bring a little social science research to
bear on the current election and see if it’s possible to contribute
something, a little value added to the discussion of the election and the
understanding of it. Our first session back in early September focused on
parties and partisanship. The next one dealt with election fundamentals,
the economy, the war, the President’s standing. Last session we delved
into how issues, ideology, gender, and race effect elections. And today,
just days before Election Day, although weeks after voting has begun, we
are looking specifically at campaign effects, money, ads, mobilization.
We have a terrific group of people joining us. You, of
course, already know Larry. But I do want to mention that, for our C-Span
audience, and he’s written a terrific book called Unequal Democracy, the
Political Economy of the New Gilded Age, available on Amazon, if not your
favorite book store. Larry is a professor – the Donald E. Stokes professor
at Princeton University.
I’m going to introduce our participants in the order in which
they will speak. After Larry, we will hear from Tony Corrado, who is the
Charles Dana Professor of Government at Colby College, as well as a
Nonresident Senior Fellow here at Brookings, and perhaps the country’s
most respected expert on campaign finance.
We will then hear from Lynn Vavreck, here to my right. Lynn
is a faculty member in the Political Science Department at UCLA. Her
most recent book is called, The Message Matters, the Economy and
Campaign Effects in Presidential Elections, mighty relevant to our
discussion today. Then we are going to be turning to Diana Mutz, who is
off here on my left. Diana is the Samuel A. Stouffer Professor of Political
Science and Communication at the University of Pennsylvania; also
directs the Institute for the Study of Citizens and Politics in the Annenberg
Public Policy Center; also a Nonresident Senior Fellow here at Brookings.
She’s the author of Hearing the Other Side, Deliberative Versus
Participatory Democracy.And finally, I’m delighted to welcome Mike Allen, who is the
Chief Political Correspondent for Politico. We’ve come to know him at
Politico, and before that at Time magazine, where he was the White
House Correspondent, and, of course, at the Washington Post for a
number of years.
Each of these seminars has had presentations by scholars
and then a reaction by a knowledgeable journalist who raises questions,
tells us we don’t know what we’re talking about, and invariably gets the
conversation going in the right direction.
One other just stage-setting observation, the two first
sessions really stressed the powerful forces at work in our elections, and
this election in particular, of partisanship, the economy, and the
President’s political standing. And we argued these provided a huge
advantage for the Democrats well before the financial meltdown that many
have felt has transformed the election, but we argued it was there well in
Since then, the meltdown, the candidates’ reactions to the
meltdown, the three debates, the campaign narrative is actually reinforcing
those election fundamentals rather than departing from it.
We found in our last session that the mix of issues and
ideology and race did little to alter that pattern of reinforcement. But now
we’re here, as I said, days before the election to really ask the question
about how campaigns can have an influence on the election, how the
relative resources available to the campaigns and their strategic use
through advertising and mobilization efforts might alter the results of the
election. So that’s what’s on track for today. We begin with Tony.
MR. CORRADO: Thank you, Tom. At the start of this
election cycle, a number of observers predicted that this would be the first
$1 billion race for the presidency. That prediction was predicated on the
assumption that the two major party nominees were going to opt out of the
public funding system in both the primary and the general election, and
that, consequently, each would raise about $500 million during the course
of this campaign. Part of that prediction proved to be false. While it was
the case that the two nominees opted out of the public funding system and
its accordant spending restraints during the primary, John McCain chose
to take the public subsidy and the general election campaign and accept
the $84 million that was provided for him to spend, and thus, we had a
campaign where one of the candidates opted out of general election public
funding for the first time, but one of the candidates stayed in.
As a result, we still have a billion dollar presidential race. In
fact, what we have found is that, as of mid October, $980 million has been
raised by the candidates, and the vast majority of this sum was raised by
Senator Obama, so I have no doubt that we’re going to see a billion dollar
election by the time it’s all said and done.
We have Senator Obama having already raised over $640
million, essentially twice the $337 million that John McCain has managed
to raise in his various campaign accounts, including some of his legal and
compliance funds. So as a result, we have an extraordinarily well funded
campaign, which is often cast as an insuperable advantage by Barack
Obama. But I think, you know, if we take some perspective on this, we
should say that John McCain has not run a poorly funded campaign. In
fact, if you look at the McCain campaign, he has done extraordinarily well.
He has raised more money than John Kerry raised in 2004, he has raised
only slightly less than the amount of money that President Bush put
together in 2004.
The problem is that he has faced this financial juggernaut in
the form of the Obama campaign, which has essentially rewritten the
fundraising record books. Obama is likely to raise as much as Bush and
Kerry raised combined in 2004.
Obama has exceeded Bush’s record sum in 2004 by more
than $300 million. He has, as a result, been able to spend more money,
and in the general election alone, during these last ten weeks or so, will
probably spend twice the amount that McCain is able to spend in the
general election.
As of mid October, Obama had already raised about $229
million for the general election as compared to $120 million in public and
private money from McCain, so that he has had a considerable general
election advantage. When you add in the money that he went into the
general election with in terms of cash still able to spend, he’s at the point
of having about $130 million advantage in the general election. As a
result, the McCain campaign, like Bush in 2004, like Kerry in 2004, has
had to rely on the party to try to balance out and equalize the field. And
the Republican Party has undertaken significant efforts on his behalf along
lines that look like they will spend much more than they did in 2004 in
support of their presidential nominee.
But the role of the parties and the role of the campaign is
very different. In 2004, the national party spent $240 million in direct
support of their presidential candidate, either in advertising or in
coordinated expenditures with the candidate or in some other form that
directly supported the candidate. Most of that advertising was done by the
Democrats, who overall put $160 million behind John Kerry as opposed to
$80 million that the republicans put behind George Bush.
I expect, given where we are now, that the Republicans will
spend much more in support of John McCain, and the Democrats have
spent little in support of Obama. In fact, right now they’re at $1.8 million.
Essentially where we are is that Obama is taking on McCain and the
republicans and he’s still winning the race. And, in fact, even after all the
party spending is accounted for, is probably going to have a substantial
financial advantage in the general election.
One of the reasons why he has this advantage is that he’s
had extraordinary success raising money on both ends of the donor
spectrum, what you might call – what I like to think of as the classic
hourglass configuration of presidential fundraising.
He’s done extremely well at the low end amongst the small
donors, he’s done extremely well at the high end amongst the larger
donors, to the point where, on both sides of the scale, he’s in a position
where he is basically setting whole new standards for fundraising amongst
both large donors and small donors.
Generally this is due to the scope of his campaign. With 3.1
million donors, a number that is continuing to grow substantially, he’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. And as a result, he has been able to tap into an enormous base
of support to generate a remarkable number of small contributions. In
fact, he’s had unparalleled success, whether you think of it in terms of the
share of his money that comes from small donors or the amount of money
he gets from small donors, as a new model of how to, on a wide scale,
solicit large amounts of support.
To give you some idea, of the $638 million he has raised
from individuals, $310 million has come from donors who have given less
than $200. That means that he has raised more just from individuals who
get $200 or less than the total amount either George Bush or John Kerry
raised from all individuals in the last campaign.
He has reached a point now where his small donor
fundraising is almost half of his total campaign take. It was about 53
percent for his primary money, it’s up over 40 percent in the money he’s
raised in the general election overall, it’s about 48 percent of his money
comes from small donors.
What’s remarkable is that he’s had just as much success on
the high end. If you look at donors who give $1,000 or more, he’s taken in
$215 million from donors of $1,000 or more. That makes up about 30
percent of his primary money, about 38 percent of his general election
money. To give you a comparison, George Bush, who was considered
the king of the large donor fundraisers, took in $147 million from gifts of
$1,000 or more in 2004, which made up about 57 percent of his individual
So whether you look at it as a proportion of the money or
whether you look at it as the total amount of money, small donors have
been the hallmark of his campaign, and this has led him to a significant
strategic advantage in this race, and I think that strategic advantage can
be cast in a number of ways.
First, the $200 million more that he raised than John McCain
during the primary season and the nature of the Democratic race allowed
Obama to invest tens of millions of dollars into battleground states early in
this election cycle. He developed field organizations, he was out
registering voters, he was spending millions of dollars on advertising as a
result of the battle with Hillary Clinton, and that all ended up being
investments for the future of his campaign.
Second, because he was able to keep financing a national
campaign, he was able to essentially run a permanent campaign. In most
of these states, Barack Obama did not face the decision that other
candidates have faced in the past, where they had to close down, pull out,
rest for a while, shift operations to the national party, come back again in
August to start again. Instead, they went to Iowa and they stayed in Iowa,
they set up in Virginia and they stayed in Virginia, and as a result, they
have had the opportunity to use the summer to build their organization,
register voters, invest tens of millions of dollars into voter registration and
contacting key states that has set them up for the position they’re in today.
Third, it’s allowed him to develop a much more extensive
and expansive field organization than we have ever seen on the
Democratic side and probably ever seen for a presidential candidate.
To give you just some idea, I looked at six battleground
states, Florida, Iowa, Pennsylvania, since they’re everybody’s favorites,
and Indiana, North Carolina, and New Mexico, since they’re my current
favorites, and looked at how many offices does Obama have, how many
field offices does he have, how many offices does McCain have, and how
many offices does the Republican Party have. If you look in those six
states, Obama has 345 field offices, at the time I counted; McCain and the
Republican Parties of those states have 177. That gives you some idea of
the difference in scope on the ground. I think the final strategic advantage
is, obviously, in the advertising campaign. And there’s been a lot of
discussion in the press and in the public about the fact that Obama has
been able to outspend Senator McCain two to one over the air waves.
Even if you include the Republican Party advertising, there’s
a significant gap in disparity in the advertising campaigns, and some of
these battleground states running to four to one, even eight to one in
some crucial moments in the general election.
But I think the advantage extends to more than that. I think
in terms of advertising, what’s happened is, first of all, the Obama
campaign has had the funding to use every available platform for delivery
that they think makes sense. They buy national television, they buy local
television, they buy broadcast, they buy cable, they are wide on the
internet in their advertising, they’re even advertising in video games.
That’s about as expansive as you’ve ever seen. In the half hour road
block, the half hour of prime time that he bought across seven networks
this week that gave him an audience of more than 26 million indicate the
scope to which they’re using media to deliver their message. The other
aspect of the campaign media advertising that’s important is that it’s given
him much greater flexibility. He is able to respond to any surges that have
occurred in some of these battleground states. When McCain starts to
catch up in Virginia, the Obama campaign responds by just spending
more money, buying the bigger markets, building up its media edge in
order to respond to any shifts in the battleground at any given time.
It’s also giving them the opportunity to advertise across an
expansive electoral field. The Obama campaign has not had to face the
resource decisions about where do we spend our limited dollars, where do
we want to concentrate our advertising, how do we extend our dollar, so
that he hasn’t had to face the types of decisions that Al Gore had to face
in 2000, where he had to decide to stop advertising in the final days in
Ohio to put more money in Florida. He hasn’t had to face the decisions
John McCain faces on how to stretch a very limited campaign advertising
dollar. Instead, he can keep advertising everywhere, keeping McCain
thin, preventing McCain from being able to concentrate resources in a
couple of states here at the end. And I think the other thing that’s been
important is that it has allowed him to have a better mix of advertising and
a clearer message.
The Obama campaign controls their advertising and
message. They centrally finance all their ads, all their ads can talk about
why you should elect Obama or not support John McCain. The campaign
makes the decisions about what the message is.
Because McCain has to rely on the party, has to rely on
technicalities and campaign finance law like hybrid advertising, McCain
has been forced to a point where there’s certain ads, the ads by his
campaign and the ads that are done in coordination with the RNC, that
he’s able to control the message. Otherwise, he’s at the whims of the
And the Republican National Committee independent expenditures,
which are the loudest voice for McCain at this point, have to be largely
partisan messages, the ads have all been negative or critical ads of
Obama, therefore, they support this notion of the negative tone of the
McCain campaign. Obama has so much money that he’s able to match all
of the McCain negative ads one for one where he wants, and then he lays
over two positive ads on top, so that the general impression is that he has
a positive advertising campaign. The other problem that McCain faces,
that he’s had to have ads that have a partisan tone. Because he’s using
these hybrid ads with the party, you see these very odd ads where you get
part William Heirs and then part an attack on the Democrats and
Congress, where you get messages that have to include attacks on Harry
Reid, where you get messages that talk about Obama and his allies in
Congress, and therefore, you get a much more partisan message at a
time when a campaign is trying to advocate a bipartisan theme, so that the
financial issues have effected the strategic component of the campaign in
a number of different ways, all to Obama’s advantage, even though, in the
end, the financial gap will not be as deep as the candidate fundraising
figures suggest.
MR. MANN: Tony, thank you very much. I was so anxious
to get to the money issue, and you can understand why, but now I want to
turn back to my colleague, Larry Bartels, for some more general
observations on the subject before us. Larry.
MR. BARTELS: Thanks, Tom. I want to make I guess three
general interpretive points about campaign effects. I’ll start with money
since that’s where Tony left off. It’s clearly something new and important
that there is as much money in the campaign this year as there is. I think
that’s 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.
The second thing that’s big and important and new this time
around is the big advantage that Obama has that Tony has described.
That may be problematic insofar as the advertising advantage is going to
effect the outcome of the election. You might think that it would be better
to have an even balance between the two sides as the design of the
campaign finance regulations that were instituted in the early 1970’s
suggest. To put that in some historical comparison, though, if you go back
to before the reforms of the 1970’s, it was quite common for republican
presidential candidates to have two to one funding advantages over their
Democratic opponents. Insofar as it’s possible to gauge the effect of that
on the election outcomes, it looks like that contributed something like three
percent points to the average republican vote margin over the entire
period since the late 1940’s.
The average Republican advantage in that period in
presidential elections is about three percentage points. So the net
republican advantage is, in that sense, at least entirely attributable to the
fundraising advantages that they’ve consistently had through that period.
Since the post Watergate reforms, the Republican
advantages have been less because the presidential candidates have
been limited to take the same amount of public funding, but the
republicans have generally had an advantage in terms of party spending
even in that period. So there’s a big shift here, it’s important in terms of
the relative ability of the two candidates to compete, but it’s kind of
redressing of a historical imbalance in the overall scheme of things. The
third point about money is about where it’s coming from. Tony has talked
about the fact that Obama has had unprecedented success in raising
money from small donors. But the thing you should keep in mind here is
that the small donors are small by comparison with big donors, but they’re
not small in the absolute sense of representing the American public as a
Since it seems pretty likely that elected officials are mostly
responsive to the kinds of people who give them money, it’s probably
good news that they’re less reliant this time around than in the past on
large individual contributions from identifiable people.
But you shouldn’t conclude that the money is now so evenly
distributed, the sources of money are so evenly distributed that politicians
have an incentive to pay the same kinds of attention to people who are
making less than average incomes as they do to people who are
sufficiently economically comfortable to make even those $200
contributions that Tony was talking about.
A couple other points about campaign effects, one is about
the distinctions between the way political scientists think about this and
the way journalists do. We talked in some of our other sessions about
how political scientists have tended to emphasize structural factors like the
state of the economy, and the President’s popularity, and to down play the
impact of what goes on in the campaign, things like the advertising
messages of the competing candidates. That’s partly because we think
the structural factors are bigger and more important, but it’s also because
it’s very difficult for us to analyze the impact of campaigning.
And one of the important advances in political science over
the last decade or so is that we’ve really just now begun to make progress
on estimating the concrete impact on electoral outcomes of advertising
and get out to vote efforts and so on, because it’s a very hard problem.
The effects are fairly small in the global scheme of things, they’re subtle to
get at. We need large, ambitious research projects in order to try and
identify those effects. And so we’re making some progress on it now, but
there’s still a lot to be learned.
In particular, I think it’s important to note that the political
science literature that you’ll be hearing about focuses almost entirely on
estimating the magnitudes of effects of activities, how much does
advertising matter, but not on what journalists typically care much more
about, which is, whose advertising is more effective, does it matter that a
candidate is pressing one message rather than another message, is one
campaign team better organized in getting out the vote, and what kind of
effect does that have. That’s a second order effect that we suspect is a
good deal smaller even than the effects that we’ve begun to focus on of
advertising in general, but it’s not something that political scientists are
very well equipped to study.
And so we’re mostly skeptical about the accounts that you’ll be
hearing a week from now about how one side was superbly well organized
and run by strategic geniuses and the other side was run by a bunch of
dolts who didn’t understand anything about what was going on. And
maybe that’s true, we won’t be able to tell, but we doubt it, in part,
because we think those differences in the effectiveness of the two sides
campaigns are likely to be small, and because we recognize that the
strategic decisions that campaigners make are effected by these contexts
that they find themselves in.
If you’re in a situation where running a typical campaign is
going to lose the election for you, then you’re going to try and do
something that may not pan out, but that has some chance of producing
enough support that you’ll actually win. After the fact, it’s likely that that’s
going to look like a bad campaign, but it may make perfect sense given
the strategic circumstances that a candidate finds himself in.
And finally, we recognize that there’s a huge impulse on
everyone’s part, but especially on the part of journalists who try – have to
make sense of something after it’s happened, to assume that because
one candidate won, his campaign must have been better, and because
another candidate lost, his campaign must have been worse.
Often that’s probably the case, but in many cases it’s not,
and it’s very hard to tell. Even with lots of elaborate research, it’s very
hard to judge the effectiveness of the competing campaigns, and so you
should take all of the interpretation you hear about that with a grain of salt.
And then finally, about how to think about the implications for
democracy of these campaign effects. Is it a good thing or a scary thing
that the candidate who gets to spend more money is likely to win more
support, to win people over, what does that say about the voters? The
romantic notion of electoral politics that we inherited from the progressive
era had the ideal voter being somebody who would pay careful attention,
learn a lot about the campaigns and the issue positions of the candidates,
weigh the issues all the way through the campaign, listen carefully to what
the candidates were saying, remain undecided, and then at the end, finally
come to a decision. And the people who had already made up their minds
early were the kind of not very well informed partisans who supported one
party rather than the other and were voting for the party rather than the
man because they had some ethnic attachment to the party or because
they had inherited party loyalty from their families.
That turns out to be pretty much the opposite of the way
things actually work. The better informed and more intensive people tend
to be more partisan and tend to have made up their minds before the
campaigning has really even gotten underway. What they get from the
campaign is most reinforcement of what they already believed and
rationalizations, explanations that they can tell themselves and tell their
friends about why they’re behaving the way they are.
On the other hand, the people who are likely to remain
undecided and who are most likely to be effected by campaign events and
campaign ads and the efforts of the competing candidates are people who
are not very well informed, who haven’t been paying very much attention
and whose views are subject to shift in the last days of the campaign. So
you may think it’s kind of frightening that those are the people who are
likely to hold the outcome of the election in their hands. On the other
hand, at least they’re learning something from all this campaigning that’s
going on.
People denigrate these 30 second ads, what a waste of money,
people are being misled by all this stuff that doesn’t have anything to do
with the real issues. But if you look at where these undecided voters are
actually learning about the candidates’ positions and coming to
conclusions about which ones they ought to support, mostly they’re
learning things from the ads. They’re not paying a lot of attention to news
reports, they’re not listening to the campaign speeches, they’re not
spending a lot of time on web sites.
The ads come to them, even if they’re not very interested,
and so that’s what they use to gauge what the election is about and to
make their decisions, that’s the way democracy works.
MR. MANN: Thank you, Larry. Lynn.
MS. VAVRECK: Thanks, Tom. I’m going to pick up on
many of the things that Larry just talked about and try to put maybe just a
little more detail around some of them. I’m going to start with a number,
80 percent, okay, so 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.
Okay. So that’s the puzzle, right.
What role can campaigns play in an environment where the
structure is so powerful? Okay. And so my answer to this question is very
similar to the argument that Larry just laid out, that the campaigns actually
can play quite a big role in the election outcome, but a very specific role
and on very specific types of people.
So if you’re John Kennedy or Jimmy Carter or Richard Nixon
in 1968, and you beat an advantaged incumbent party, you probably think
your campaign made a difference, and it did, it probably did. And the
question is, can we say anything about why and how those campaigns
matter? Sometimes they matter in very small ways, small in magnitude.
But I want to suggest that small in magnitude is not synonymous with
inconsequential. And, in fact, very small changes in support for
candidates can be decisive. So we shouldn’t think that just because
advertisements might move people only a point or two, that that means we
should move on and study something else. Sometimes a point or two is
very important.
So I’m going to talk about three ways that advertising in
particular effects people in elections. The first way has to do with the
composition of evaluations that voters will give you about candidates,
about presidential candidates, in their own words.
So one of the things that we know is that voters are very
good at reflecting changes in the composition of campaign messages,
presidential campaign messages. So that means, as John McCain stops
talking about political experience and starts talking about being a change
agent and a maverick, if we ask people to tell us what they think about
John McCain, their comments will reflect that change in his message.
Voters are pretty good at this. They don’t get the overall
composition right. They’re bad at the recipe, right, it’s 60 percent the
economy, 20 percent foreign policy, 20 percent traits. They can’t get that
right. But they are very good, they’re very, very sensitive to changes in
campaign messages over the typical election period, Labor Day to
Election Day. They’re better at it than the news media.
And the question there is, what drives that; why do voters have
more of a fidelity? There’s sort of a higher level of fidelity between voters
evaluations and what the candidates are saying compared to media
coverage of the campaigns and what the candidates are saying. And the
answer there is exactly what Larry just talked about, it’s the direct effect of
political campaign advertising on the voters. So voters are very moved by
the messages in these advertisements.
So that leads me to my second point about advertising. How
long do the effects of advertising last? In 2000, George Bush out
advertised, I should say, Al Gore in the week – the last week of the
campaign, right before the election. So that kind of an imbalance in
advertising is what we need as political scientists to be able to say
something about the effects of the balance of advertising. And we don’t
need it just once, we actually need it in a whole bunch of media markets
over a whole range of days, so that we can try to pinpoint what the
imbalance in advertising might mean to voters in terms of who they might
support. And luckily in 2000, we had the situation over and over again in
different media markets at different times throughout the summer and
leading into the fall.
And so with some of my colleagues at UCLA, what we’ve been able
to pinpoint is, the duration of the effectiveness of the balance of
advertising content in the presidential election, and we estimate that for
many people, most of the effects of the advertisements are gone within
three to five days of exposure.
So the effects of advertisements are fleeting. This doesn’t
mean that candidates should only advertise at the end, right, it depends
on what your end goal is. If your end goal is name recognition, you need
to be doing that in the beginning. Certainly, if your end goal is winning the
election, then you also need to be dominating the advertising market, the
balance of ads in the end.
So here we are in the last week of the campaign, the last
couple of days even, three to four days, so what’s happening right now is
very important in terms of people who are, you know, left to go vote on
Tuesday. So I want to make my third point about the effectiveness of
advertising, which is, what do we know about actual behavior, is there
anything that we can say about how ads actually effect peoples’ behavior,
not just their attitudes, or their evaluations of the candidates, and the
answer to that is, yes, there is evidence that advertising can effect
In 2004, with Don Green at Yale University, we did a
randomized field experiment of cable advertising in which we bought local
cable advertising time in 85 cable systems around the country, nonbattleground
states, and partnered with Rock the Vote, and aired their 30
second ad called The Draft, which was – sort of gained a little notoriety in
that campaign.
So a very popular ad targeted at young people. And the
point of the ad is to encourage people to turn out, get out to vote, right. So
we did a randomized experiment, and in the cable systems where we
showed the ad, on USA, TNT, TBS, Lifetime, and ESPN, five times in
prime time for a week before the election, so it’s a pretty decent size ad
buy. We were able to increase turnout among 18 to 19 year olds by 3.1
percentage points; among 18 to 22 year olds by 2.7 percentage points.
Okay. Older folks, not so much. We can’t – the effects are very small, we
can’t distinguish them from zero. But that targeted message at that
specific demographic group, young people, was able to drive young
people to the polls, okay, and that is a result from a randomized
experiment in the field during an election, when there were lots of other
advertisements going on, lots of other voter mobilization efforts underway,
and during a highly competitive, high stakes presidential election.
So my sense is that if you can boost turnout with one week
of advertising in that environment, you’ve got a pretty chance of doing it in
sort of less competitive or down ballot elections.
So what does this mean? Here we are, the last week of the
election, and I’ll just summarize the set of findings by saying that we do
see an imbalance in the advertising, okay, and the 30 minute
advertisement the other night by Barack Obama, certainly well within the
time frame for the persuasion effect, but the effects of these
advertisements are small in magnitude and they don’t last very long,
particularly for the kind of people that Larry just talked about, the people
with lower levels of political information, who are not as attentive to the
campaign as all of you sitting in this room.
MR. MANN: Thank you, Lynn. Diana.
MS. MUTZ: Thanks, Tom. I’m currently serving as a
principal investigator on something called The National Annenberg
Election Study Panel, and this panel of people has been in the field now
since October of 2007, before the primary season started, and what we’ve
been doing is tracking 20,000 people during the course of this campaign,
the same 20,000 people we attempted to recontact at five different points
during the campaign.
When we talk to them during the campaign is randomly
assigned within each wave so that we have a unique opportunity to look
not only at tracking data over time, but also at how individuals who thought
one thing last October have changed their minds now.
So we’re currently in the fourth wave of that data collection,
and our fifth wave will be a post-election wave that starts next week. Our
goal in doing this is to really provide a much richer picture of what’s
happened during the course of an election year than has been possible
with a series of individual polls done over time of different individuals. So
we think this is going to provide really unique opportunities to study the
American electorate, and those who choose not to participate in the
process, as well. As I mentioned, we started pre-primary, so we had
some idea of where peoples’ preferences were back then, and we’re
ending – I think our data collection will wrap up by the time of the
By virtue of our funding agreement, we are not allowed to
talk about campaign effects on the horse race during the election itself.
So unlike some of the other speakers today, I can’t tell you what we see in
our patterns of data at this point suggest who’s being advantaged by what
in terms of who’ll win the outcome of the election.
But I think that gives me a nice opportunity to talk about the
fact that there are actually other outcomes of elections that have nothing
to do with who wins or loses that we also care about, things that have to
do with the legitimacy of the process or the types of effects that
campaigns may have that are not purposeful, but that happened
nonetheless, and so that’s really what I’d like to focus on briefly today.
One of the things we found that pertains to the whole issue
of money that Tony and Larry have both spoken about is that 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, you
know, 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
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.
We had unexpected outcomes from the primaries, and that
seems to have not only riveted peoples attention, but also made them
somewhat less cynical about the process itself.
Another really interesting pattern that we’re observing that’s
very recent, we have had items on various waves of this panel study
asking about peoples perceptions of race relations in this country. And, in
general, we have found the same thing that has always been true, and
studies have been done of this, that is, whites tend to be far more positive
about race relations than our blacks. However, we also have a question
about their perception of the future of race relations in this country. And
just as of the last month or so, we’ve actually seen those lines among
blacks and whites coincide in a way that suggests that, if we’re talking
about the future of blacks and whites, seem to be equally optimistic about
the future of race relations right now.
Now, obviously, race and gender and issues of
representation have been really widely discussed during both the
primaries and the general election given the unusual candidates that
we’ve had relative to past presidential elections. And one of the things
that we’ve been tracking is what we call perceived favoritism.
One of the explanations people will provide for, you know,
why it is they think a female or a black won’t represent the country as a
whole, that they’ll systematically favor their own group, policies that favor
their own group at the expense of others and so forth. So we have an
index of favoritism that we’ve been tracking throughout. And for the most
part, it’s been pretty flat, I’ll tell you, it hasn’t moved a lot. But what’s very
interesting about that to us is, again, during wave four in particular, the
wave that we’re in the midst of right now, there’s been a significant decline
in the extent to which whites believe that black politicians will favor the
interests of blacks over the collective.
So we’ve tracked perceptions of favoritism both with respect
to race and with respect to gender. And, again, as I said, in general, we
haven’t seen a lot of movement, but we definitely have in this current
period of data collection that we’re in right now.
Another interesting – a tidbit that comes out of the same line
of work on perceptions of favoritism has to do with the whole gender effect
that’s been so widely discussed in the primary, and this has been
something that I think, because it was – it’s dated from the primary period
primarily, on whether female Democrats were really more likely to support
Hillary simply because she was female. And this is something where, you
know, you can look at, well, was it really about having closer issue
agreement with her, closer ideology relative to her and so forth, and I can
tell you that no matter how many things you look at, you still find an effect
from gender. But here’s what’s interesting, the story that I’ve heard and
that probably most of you have heard from the press thus far is the story
about women being more likely to support women. And what we find in
our analysis of perceptions of favoritism is, it’s not that women are more
likely to support – more likely to support in the Democratic primary Hillary
Clinton because they thought she would favor female interests or issues
that were of greater concern than women and so forth, it was really the
gender gap that we saw was based on the fact that men, the more likely
they thought Hillary would be likely to favor the interests of women over
men were less likely to support her.
So male Democrats is really what the story was about, not
about female Democrats believing that their own interests or the interest of
their group would be advanced by a female candidate.
So in a lot of ways I think the story that eventually comes out
of that will be a quite different one from the one we understand now.
Finally, another very interesting pattern that we’ve observed,
again, a very sharp and clear distinction in perceptions of John McCain
happened right around the time of the Republican Convention, and in
particularly, as soon as Sarah Palin was selected as his nominee, what we
saw, what was a very consistent perception of John McCain as a
moderate conservative jumped to one where he was perceived as far
more conservative as a result of that particular choice for vice president.
So perceptions of his ideology changed very quickly as a result of that
choice that he made. And, again, we are assuming that was on purpose,
but it did fundamentally change his ideological proximity to people in the
middle of the voting population. I will stop there.
MR. MANN: Thank you, Diana. Tony mentioned the
extraordinary resources Obama has invested in ground operations, get out
to vote, and Lynn made reference to a very interesting experimental study
that demonstrated ads can have an impact, as much as three percentage
points in turnout. Those two observations raised the issue that is perhaps
the one element of uncertainty going into Election Day, occasioned by the
very diverse likely voter models used by different polling organizations as
to who’s actually going to turn out.
Now, we have some evidence with early voting, we know
something about at least the reported votes of those who say they have
voted early. We know something about the registration, party registration
of those who have cast their ballots. In a number of early voting states,
there’s even a few that keeps track of some other information, and we
have some handle on that, as well.
But there remains great uncertainty as to who will turn out.
And I want to suggest to you, and just a few minutes of observations
before Mike offers his reaction overview is that in thinking about turnout,
we ought to have three categories in mind.
The first is the, if you will, the stable element of turnout, the
sort of demographically induced turnout patterns, one in which – I think it’s
fair to say political scientists have concluded there is a modest Republican
Party advantage, that is, people with higher education, greater incomes,
that are older, that are married, that have deeper roots in the community,
that have higher information levels, stronger attachments to party, and
greater sense of citizen duty, all of those people are more likely to turn out
in any election year than those who do not have those characteristics.
And while the demographic composition of the two parties is,
each of the parties is highly diverse, nonetheless, you begin with the
presumption that the Republican Party has a turnout advantage in the
ordinary election year. Then the second category is the broad political
environment of a particular election year. Now, sometimes there are no
tides running either way, it’s fairly neutral at the national level, in which
case this category doesn’t end up being very important at all, and the first
category is more significant.
Well, needless to say, this is one of those election years in
which it matters enormously. It is an election year of a strong negative
referendum on the party of the White House, driven by the economy, the
war, and a general sense of discontent.
This tends to produce relative enthusiasm among the out
party supporters and – for their parties candidate and for the ticket as a
whole and produces higher levels of interest and engagement and
campaign contributions and the rest. We’ve seen that throughout the
election year, the Democrats have had this clear advantage, and it – we
would presume it would carry through the general election, through the
pattern of early voting, on to Election Day.
And sure enough, if we look at the indicators and the polls,
we continue to see this advantage for the Democratic party, so that if the
first party produces a modest republican advantage, the second election
year political environment almost certainly produces a Democratic
Then the third level, which is the only one we tend to talk
about in the campaigns, is the effect of campaigns on mobilizing voters.
Now, that first begins with party registration. And there again, we’ve seen
the evidence is pretty clear, the changes in party registration, for those
states that allow registration by party from 2004 to 2008, has produced an
increase of 1.3 million Democratic registrations and a decline of 700,000
republican registrations.
Well, there’s a clear advantage for the Democratic party.
Now, of course, the question is, are these new registrants susceptible to
turning out at the polls at high rates comparable to others who have been
registered before, or is there bound to be some fall off, and is there some
noise in the system of registering such that Donald Duck probably isn’t
going to show up on Election Day, in any case; nonetheless, there is a
clear Democratic advantage. Then we have early voting, and clearly, the
campaigns have been geared toward early voting opportunities as they
have increased dramatically over the last two decades. But this effects
their advertising strategy, their travel strategy, and obviously their
investment in get out to vote. And what we have seen thus far, and we
have, again, two bits of information, we have the reports from the
secretaries of state and some county election officials, and then we have
survey reports of – and the former tends to lag before you get those
results in.
Michael McDonald, a Nonresident Senior Fellow here, has
the definitive web site on this called Early Voting, that you can see, and
thus far he’s up to about 15 percent of the total vote is cast already.
The other indicators by survey suggest it’s pushing 20
already, and the best estimates are, it will be from the high 20’s to the mid
30’s, really a substantial increase in turnout.
And from what we can see, there is a strong Democratic tilt
in terms of party registrations, in terms of reporting votes for Obama. It
varies by state, so we don’t know; and the other thing we don’t know is,
are these simply substitution votes? Are these people who are going to
turn out anyway and are just getting there earlier? That has been the past
pattern of early voting. Or are we seeing an addition factor here? In a
state like North Carolina, where you can show up at an early voting booth
and both register and vote at the same time, it may well be an addition
effect. But we don’t know that for sure, and that keeps uncertainty going.
And finally we have the Election Day get out to vote
operations. We can look at dollars invested, at the number of offices in
battleground states, we can look at patterns of staffing, of volunteers
versus paid help, we can look at the efficacy of the republican 72 hour
program, and from all of that, try to draw some conclusions.
Now, I think it would be fair to say, and I’ll end with this, that
political scientists would believe on the basis of the research they’ve done
that the second category in an election year like this is more important
than the third, that is, the inherent advantage accruing to the Democrats
because of the political environment will be more important than the
incremental votes produced by the GOT effort, but they – in this case,
everything is working in the same direction, you know, the broad forces,
the campaign effort itself, when that happens, the best guess is that the
net turnout advantage will be on the Democratic side this time. With that, I
turn to our colleague from Politico, Mike Allen.
MR. ALLEN: Well, Tom, thank you for that nice, fat pitch,
and I’m going to pick right up on what you said about uncertainty in
turnout, because in the next 72 hours, that is the story, nothing else
matters, right. John McCain is going to go on Saturday Night Live, both
candidates are going to tape conversations with Chris Berman that will air
on Monday Night Football, but are those sorts of things going to – the
election, no, it’s the structural factors that we’ve been talking about here.
I first want to thank our friends at the Brookings Institution for
this great treat. I can tell you that if it weren’t for Brookings, White House
reporters would not know what to write on their foreign trips, because one
of the secrets of Brookings is that before a foreign trip with the President,
reporters, who know nothing about trade or anything like that, come to
Brookings and get quick tutoring, and they go out and they put it in their
stories from – and thank Tom and Larry for their hospitality in setting this
table. I’m going to start with a word of humility, and that is – maybe
discount factor is a better way to put it. 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.
Also, it’s very easy to sort of take pot shots at both the campaigns. And
I’m reminded of something that Kevin Madden, who worked for Governor
Romney during the primaries used to tell us, when we would call him up
and tell him what Governor Romney should be doing in his campaign, he
would always say, you think you can run a better campaign, I think I can
write a better story, and it’s a little hard to push back and –
This question of uncertainty, the question of uncertainty is
whether or not John McCain is going to win, right. If the polls are
reflecting reality, he’s toast, right. This was one of the lessons of 2004, for
political reports that – going into that election, the Bush/Kerry election, all
the stories were written saying there was a very close margin of error toss
up, and that was true, but what we saw in retrospect was that every poll
had President Bush slightly ahead.
And so what we learned from that is that any given poll is
wrong, but every poll is not wrong, and that’s the difficult situation that
Senator McCain faces.
Now, we’re getting a lot of very like emotional, passionate email and input
into Politico on the questions of these polls, because as been referred to,
they are so widely different. There’s polls that show a 13 point difference
and polls that show a three point difference, so you wonder what good
they are.
And a lot of you know that Gallup, to make the situation even worse,
this year, every day, is publishing two daily tracking polls, one with what
they call the traditional turnout model, which is what it would be in another
cycle, and another one that tries to, and in the way that Tom refers to, it’s
very difficult to do, tries to take account for this amazing potential change
in the electorate, and there’s about an eight point difference in those, and
whichever one you use, you’re going to get a lot of hate mail about it.
Matt Drudge, America’s assignment editor, has – the one
that shows it very close. And so any time you write anything that suggests
that Senator McCain is having trouble, you get a lot of nasty mail from
And so what I urge you to do is not look at polls, but look at
what’s happening in these states, what’s happening on the ground, and
what suggests real trouble for Senator McCain, and what suggests that his
staff, both at the campaign and at the Republican National Committee are
trying to stave off disaster, is the fact that the Republican National
Committee is spending money in West Virginia, Montana, and they are
doing very nasty robo-calls in Arizona, where Media Poll has showed
Senator McCain within two points of losing his own state.
Now, nobody thinks he will, but that speaks to the fact that if
the campaign is willing to pull a slight amount of money, and Montana, of
course, is not very expensive; North Dakota, they’re also spending money
in North Dakota; like Virginia has not gone republican since 1964; so
these are the signs that were on the verge of something very historic.
Now, the McCain campaign will tell you that it’s closer than it
looks, and they’ve been telling you – they put out a memo saying that all
these red states that we’ve been writing about, Virginia, North Carolina,
Indiana, that these states are in play. Well, red states in play are not good
for John McCain, despite what his campaign memos say.
And they said – they also, in this same memo, said that we were going to
have astonishing record turnout in 2004, which was a record percentage
turnout of the eligible voting population, 122 million, the McCain campaign
is saying there will be 130 million this time, there’s some estimates that
put it more 140 million or even more – would know exactly. In a change
election, big turnout is not good for John McCain either.
So that’s why you’ve seen him putting these resources into
Pennsylvania, even though he’s very far down there, because they said,
okay, let’s look at where something might be going on that’s not picked up
on in polls, and if something is going on that the polls are not catching,
where would it do us the most good.
And Pennsylvania is an older state, a lot of the working class white
vote where Senator McCain sort of banking his hopes, Senator Clinton did
well there, so they’re saying, okay, let’s focus on that state, and it’s a big
enough state that, if they’re right, and if there’s something going on, and if
his campaign pays off, it’s enough to put them over.
So they will tell you that they still have a path, the problem is,
they just have to draw an inside straight as they go along, and they
haven’t. Now, I will say a quick word about the very different way these
two campaigns have approached the problem of how do you win the
White House in 2008, because in addition to a great candidate, which is
important, and a great message, and the environmental factors that we’ve
talked about today, running a presidential campaign is a skill, or a game,
or it’s, in part, a battle of the wits, and Senator Clinton’s people will tell you
that they were basically outwitted, they were out thought in the primaries.
The Obama campaign recognized the importance of these
smaller contests; the caucus states which came between the big marquis
contest, and that’s where they racked up their delegate lead that was,
frankly, too large to overturn.
Well, the Obama campaign is starting to look like it also, in
general, outwitted the McCain campaign, and that is – the McCain
campaign did not foresee the possibility, and, as Tony has talked about,
really didn’t have the resources to deal with it even if they did, they did not
foresee the possibility that they would be in a battle for their life in states
that President Bush had won once or twice.
And so as a result, the McCain campaign did not build an
organization in Indiana, where polls now show Senator Obama ahead. He
went months and did not visit North Carolina. Even though his campaign
headquarters is in Virginia, he went months, a couple months, and did not
do a campaign event there. And Senator Obama was on television in
Florida for weeks basically unanswered, and that takes a toll. And now
trying to walk that cat back is very difficult.
Now, the McCain theory of the case is, and why they’re still
hopeful, and there’s young people in that campaign that are still battling
very hard, and I get emails, outreach for the McCain campaign at
midnight, 2:00 in the morning, 5:00 in the morning, they’re working very
hard, and they do have hope for this, but their theory was that they could
win this a little bit the way Senator McCain won the primaries, and that is
the more gorilla approach.
They talk about – they talk affectionately about the McCain
campaign as a pirate ship, because it’s sort of rollicking, and it’s fun, and
it’s adept, and it takes these sort of untraditional tactics.
Now, during the primaries, that was a matter of necessity,
because he didn’t have as much money or the large staff of some of the
other republican campaigns. Now, adapting that to the general has
proved problematic, because the Obama campaign was able to beat them
in so many states and on so many fronts at once. The amazing range of
media that Tony talked about, including video games, the Obama
campaign thinks of everything.
When you went on Google before a primary and put in
primary locations, an ad would pop up that took you to a McCain site that
would give you the location of your primary. The four big primaries,
Texas, some other states, Ohio, I’ve never even seen a web ad like this.
They had a web ad; if you went to the Cincinnati Inquirer or the Houston
Chronicle, they had a web ad that dropped down like a shower curtain
over the whole front of your screen and was an Obama ad, very expensive
and very sophisticated.
And so that’s all the ways that they’ve made John McCain
fight. Despite that – I didn’t know, I thought that it was very fascinating
what Tony said, that Senator McCain had raised roughly the same as
Kerry and Bush in ’04, and that’s a very like constructive metric which I
had never heard, but it showed how out gunned the McCain people are.
Their spokes people – MTV – those guys, there’s six or eight
of them that sit around a little table, they call it the table of joy – all day
long, and there’s at least 20 McCain people that do the job that they do,
and they all have desks, by the way.
MS. VAVRECK: Obama people.
MR. ALLEN: Yeah, 20 Obama people that do that. And so
they got in this place where there – despite being out gunned, after the
republican primary, it was close, or a lot of people would have told you
that republicans had it won, and we forget how quick this has changed.
In early September, there was – the AP did a story about
Obama being on the defensive, but he picked this sort of cool approach;
somebody told me that Obama’s approach when donors or staff is
freaking out is to basically say, it’s okay, I got this, and that is the
approach that he took, and as soon as we had the financial crisis, that was
the catalyst for all these structural factors here that we’re talking about to
really take their toll. So thank you for being here and we look forward to
your questions.
MR. MANN: Thank you, Mike. We’re going to turn to your
questions in just a minute. I’d like to raise one question, it’s come up in a
variety of ways, and that goes back to money. Looking at both the
Obama/Clinton battle over the primaries and now the general election, is
money – is money a source of electoral strength or is it an indicator of
strength? That is, which way does the arrow mainly go here? Is it a
barometer of how the candidates are doing in some other respect?
Certainly, we probably see that in the relative balance of resources
between the parties. Is that its most important role, or, in fact, is it
producing and it’s the expenditure of those resources? Are they
producing some major outcomes that are effecting the election itself?
I raise that question because, once again, we will be
returning to the public financing system at this election and ask whether it
should be amended, brought up to date, retrieved in any way, or allowed
to die a natural life. Tony, would you get us into that set of issues?
MR. CORRADO: I guess I would begin a couple of ways,Tom. One is, I agree with all the assessments here, about this is an
election driven by the economy. I mean Tony’s favorite thing is, I don’t
look at GDP and GNP, these types of things, what I look at is, state by
state mortgage foreclosure rates, relative changes in unemployment, and
that gives you a pretty good sense of why some of these states like
Indiana have become battlegrounds. But that having been said, I think,
you know, what we’ve seen in this election is really all of the complexities
of trying to sort out money. On the one hand, money has become an
important indicator of whether or not you’re a viable candidate. That
proved to be the case this year again. Obama’s rise really started with the
fact when he shocked people with how much he raised in the first quarter
of 2007, and suddenly they decided, maybe this is someone we need to
His continued financial success has been important
because, particularly as Mike noted in the primaries, Barack Obama, I
truly believe, essentially won the Democratic nomination battle because of
money, because he was able to do something no one thought physically
possible, he financed Super Tuesday, and was able to campaign in 20 of
the 21 states, and go on the air in 21 of the 21 states and take advantage
of all the rules in the Democratic Party that say basically, if you show up
some place, you can win some delegates, and he showed up in a lot more
I also think, however, that what we have seen, on specifically
the republican side, that, you know, the money wasn’t the determinative
factor in the primaries. So there is the overriding aspects of other factors
of the race. But what we have seen, and I think what we have seen in
2004 and in 2008 is that the world of campaign finances changed in a
fundamental way, and it’s something actually that Diana Mutz wrote about
years ago, which – that there is a relationship between campaign
momentum and money. And she documented this, boy, probably ten
years ago now, Diana.
And primaries, once you start becoming a front runner and winner,
you start picking up more money. And I think what’s different now is that,
with the internet and online capacities and the ability of anyone to even
make an impulse campaign contribution from their cell phone while sitting
in a subway has created a situation now where you can build momentum
in a campaign and that generates even more money.
And I think that is exactly what we saw in 2004 with John
Kerry, in the summer of 2004; it’s exactly what we have seen with Barack
Obama in this election. In fact, at the start of this election, once Obama
opted out, I was very torn about what was going to happen, because I
didn’t know if what we would see is kind of a big surge at the beginning,
and then people would kind of get disinterested and it wouldn’t continue
on, or we would see spikes in money, where there would be a big spike
after the convention, maybe there would be a big spike after the debates if
he did well, and that most of the money would come in there.
And I was amongst the group that thought, well, boy, if he
could raise 50 – 60 million a month, that would really be something. And
instead, what we have seen is, the model has been this momentum model
that has built on itself, in part, because it gets more and more expansive.
The base of the pyramid, the number of people being asked for donations
gets broader and broader and broader each week, and as a result, he has
been able to scale up his fundraising in a way we’ve never seen before.
So I think that the lesson is, money is important, but it’s
clearly secondary. But that money is important, especially when you’re
talking about close contests like primaries, where candidates are less well
known, and money is important on the margins.
I think in this general election, while it’s the economy that’s
driving this, the money has been essential in allowing Obama to create the
structure to capture the new support that comes his way, get it into the
telephone and voter contact lists, and turn it out to vote, and I think that’s
really where, on the margin, the money will make the difference this year.
MR. MANN: Anyone else like to weigh in on this?
MR. CORRADO: Yeah; if you look historically at the balance
of spending between the two parties, you see a strong relationship with
these fundamental factors that we’ve been talking about, like the state of
the economy. When the economy is good, the incumbent party candidate
generally does much better relative to the challenger in terms of
fundraising, and when the economy is bad, the reverse is the case.
That suggests, as Tom suggested, that the difference in
money is, in some ways, an indicator of the conditions, the circumstances,
more than it is a causal factor. But there’s also this long term imbalance
between the two parties that I referred to with the republicans generally
raising much more money than the Democrats even in years that should
be bad for them, and that presumably has some impact.
As for the public funding system, I don’t know what the future
of it is. I think the problem with how it’s worked so far is that we’ve tried to
run it on the – partly because people have this bad reaction when they
hear big numbers and partly because they have the cynical view that
putting money into the system is just kind of welfare for politicians. But it
seems to me that an effective public funding system would be one that
would pump enough money into the campaigns that the additional money
that candidates might raise on their own would not have all that much
impact on the margin. If both candidates have enough money to get their
messages across, then eventually they’re going to run out of places to buy
TV. spots and internet ads and video game ads or it simply won’t make all
that much difference.
One of the things that we know very little about as political
scientists is what that frontier looks like when the diminishing marginal
returns of money set in. We have a pretty clear sense now that money
matters, but how much money matters and when it stops mattering very
much is something that we know less about.
MR. MANN: All right. We’d be happy to take your
questions. We have Mike’s, let’s start right here.
MR. GARRISON: Hi, Dave Garrison, one of Brookings
Fellows. Tony, a question about the amount of time that the candidates
have to spend raising the money. McCain took the public money, which
presumably meant it didn’t have to spend a lot of time raising money,
Obama didn’t take the public money. Did he have to spend a lot of time
raising the money, or did the role of the internet offset that in that he was
actually able to raise money without having to take a lot of his personal
time? And does time spent in raising money matter in the – because it
takes away from the times you can spend out on – giving speeches?
MR. CORRADO: With respect to time and fundraising, I
think we can generally make the case that candidates spend more time
than ever before raising money, and on the Hill, they are spending
dramatically more time than ever before raising money.
One of the ideas of the public funding system, one of the
cores of the general election public funding was that we will give you the
money so that you don’t have to go out and spend time raising money
during the general election campaign.
Now, what we have seen in this election cycle is that the
presidential candidates, particularly McCain, is spending more time than
ever before raising money, because in order to try to fight this balance,
they have done an enormous amount of joint fundraising with the party,
more joint fundraising than I’ve ever seen before in the last 24 years or so
that I’ve been looking at this, and therefore, there are lots of fundraising
events, lots of events that McCain or Palin have attended to get the
$28,500 check that the parties can get, which is the only way to try to raise
money quickly.
Obama has also been doing some fundraising. But what’s
extraordinary about the Obama campaign is two things; number one, so
much of the money is coming in over the internet and online. You know,
even last month in his $150 million take, I think if you look at the small
contributions he raised, the vast majority were online contributions, that
takes no time at all. He’s doing mail and other traditional advices that take
no time at all.
The other thing is that he has had remarkable success with
using surrogates to raise money. They do a lot of fundraising events,
where Obama doesn’t have to appear, because they’ve got someone else,
whether it’s President Clinton or Hillary Clinton or John Kerry or other –
 Warren Buffet, who have been doing fundraising events on his behalf.
Even so, he is still spending some of his time raising money. And, you
know, as I always like to say, the most valuable resource in a presidential
campaign is not money, it’s the candidate’s time. Every hour you allocate
of a candidate’s time is an hour that you can’t get back, so it does cut into
what they do. I think it has been cutting into what John McCain has been
able to do in the last 90 days or so more than it’s been the case for
MR. MANN: And I think it’s important to underscore that this
has been happening already even with the acceptance of the public grant,
because that has more and more become a small part of the total budget
because of the possibility of independent party spending and hybrid
spending. As Tony said, the presidential candidates who accept the
public grant nonetheless feel obliged to help raise large amounts of money
through their political party.
So, if you will, the system was broken well before this particular cycle.
MR. ALLEN: I think the down side for the Democrats is not
the amount of time that they spend fundraising, but the fact that they seem
incapable of avoiding saying dumb things when they’re talking to their
contributors in what they think are private settings.
MR. MANN: Exactly; here, please.
MR. MITCHELL: Thanks; Gary Mitchell from the Mitchell
Report. I want to pose a question and precede it by what I understand to
be a fact, but maybe Mike or Tony would know the answer to this. Mike
talked about the notion that – one story of this may simply – one story of
this campaign may simply be summarized by the word “outwitted”, and I
would suggest that one of the other words that could describe it, and in
this case I’m talking about Obama, is ubiquitous that the Obama campaign
has been literally everywhere.
Part of that, of course, is a function of money. Now, here’s
what I – here’s the fact that I’ve been told, and I’m not sure it’s true. It’s
my understanding that in ’04, Bob Shrum made his money on
commissions. As a consequence, every penny that he could direct into
advertising went into advertising, that Axelrod and whoever else has been
involved this year is on fee.
So as a consequence, that speaks to the point that when it
came to making choices about spending money, the principal media
advisor wasn’t conflicted by the fact that the only way he made his money
was on a media commission as opposed to a fee. So my question is, do
you know whether – A, do you know whether that’s true or not, the ’04
versus ’08 model; and second, how important has this ubiquity factor been
in your judgment?
MR. CORRADO: I would prefer ubiquity rather than
outwitted. I disagree with the assessment that the McCain campaign has
been outwitted. I think the McCain campaign has been extraordinary in
terms of how they’ve gotten though this thing and the tactical decisions
that they have made. And I think that looking at the general election
campaign, they had a very logical clear game plan, which was that
between the party and them, they were going to put together $240 million,
and it would be very difficult to compete with that.
What happened was, it just proved to be that no one
expected a presidential candidate could raise $150 million in one month. I
think that in terms of the payment on advertising, you’re right, it used to be
generally that there was a commission paid or a certain percentage of the
advertising, but after 2004, when we started to get into the world of $100
million ad campaigns instead of $20 million ad campaigns, in this model,
not just Obama, but a number of candidates have gone to just having a
basic payment or fee structure rather than a percentage.
And I think with respect to the McCain campaign, what we
have seen also, and what we’re likely to see, is that campaigns are getting
much, much more efficient in their media buying. They have focused on
the small markets to try to stretch their dollar, they’ve focused on markets
that border two battleground states to double the bang for their buck. I
expect that we will see, based on some obscure FEC rulings eventually,
that they will allocate five percent of their media buy to their general
election legal and accounting fund, as considering that five percent of the
media is the disclaimer, which is compliance activity, and therefore, they’ll
stretch another couple million dollars out of their ad budget.
So I think it’s been a very well run campaign in that sense,
but they have just been faced with a force that $84 million, even stretched
out the way grandma would have you stretch it out, doesn’t compete with
a couple hundred million.
MR. MANN: Diana.
MS. MUTZ: If I could follow up on that; I agree, I would also
– not that they haven’t run a good campaign, but I would caution you
against just assuming they were outwitted, and the reason is that, again,
to – back to the structural factors, we know from decades and decades of
research that when you have an incumbent president that’s this unpopular
and an economy that’s perceived in as much decline as ours is currently,
you already have the deck stacked against you. And, you know, even
large amounts of money and a very smart staff will have a difficult time
under those circumstances, and obviously getting the money is going to
get much more difficult under those circumstances, as well.
So I think it’s easy to point to the particulars of a campaign
or a campaign staff, and to neglect the fact that some of these things are
just so persistent in their effects and so consistent over time and
presidential elections that we can’t ignore them.
SPEAKER: Just in thinking about the way that Obama has
spent his money, I think a more important factor than who’s getting what
slices of the money is the amount of money there is to be spent. And a
useful comparison here I think is with the beginning of the public financing
system after the Watergate scandal.
In 1976, Gerald Ford spent about half as much money as
Richard Nixon had spent in 1972, but he spent the same amount that
Nixon had spent on television ads, because the perception was that that
was really what was going to be the effective tool in winning the election.
And from that point on, candidates spent an increasing proportion of their
money on television ads. Now we have a candidate who can spend as
much as he wants on television ads and still have huge amounts of money
left over to send on other things. And so the ingenuity of finding things to
spend money on has spread it around much more widely than has been
the case in past campaigns, but I think that has to do with the amount of
money there is to be spent by the Obama campaign.
MR. MANN: Lynn.
MS. VAVRECK: I was just going to pick up on Diana’s point.
In the last 14 years, there have only been four cases in which candidates
in John McCain’s position have been able to overcome these strong
structural conditions, Kennedy in ’60, Nixon in ’68, Carter in ’76, and then
depending how you feel about the 2000 election, you know, perhaps.
But – so Diana’s right, it’s very, very hard. So the McCain
campaign, they were going to have a very hard job going in. The other
thing about those four elections, they are the closest elections in that 60
year time period, so it’s hard.
MR. MANN: And just remember, it’s – some election years
you get different things working. You know, you might have a health
economy for the – but you have an unpopular war underway and an
unpopular outgoing present. What’s unusual is to have all of those factors
converge. An unpopular president, a costly was, an economy in turmoil.
That presents the candidate of the incumbent party of the White House
with such a weak hand to play that it’s hard to see how they could have
acted differently in a way that would alter the outcome. We can tend to
produce poor play.
MS. VAVRECK: If I could comment on the ubiquity, I think
that’s a really interesting issue, because on one hand, yes, huge amounts
of spending, but do people have the sense that the candidate is
everywhere, given the kind of media situation we’re in now where it is
much harder to reach people than usual, in part, because we zapped the
ads. I know – I live at a battleground state of Pennsylvania, I have seen a
few ads. But in general at our house, there’s the – so we don’t see them.
Beyond that, we also have a situation where you can always
find something else to watch, if you are one of these people who’s really
not that interested in politics. It’s not the case that you’re forced to watch
the debate or whatever the case might be. Now, what I think is amazing
is, despite that, we’ve had such high viewership and so forth, and that tells
us something else is going on. It’s increasingly hard to get people who
are those low information voters to pay attention, and yet it’s happened.
MR. MANN: All right. Our 90 minutes has gone very
quickly. I wish we could entertain more questions, but it’s time to bring it
to the close. Does any one of our participants have some final closing
observation they’d like to make that they’ve been holding back, you know,
to tell us that, in fact, John McCain is going to win a landslide election on
Tuesday, something surprising? Mike, no?
MR. ALLEN: Don’t forget, the election is Tuesday.
MR. MANN: And vote. Thank you all and thank you for
* * * * *

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."

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