Something Vassar said this week triggered a memory in my poor old head. VB said, “This will be one of those elections that will transcend money, LIO.” Dollars really are not votes. Let’s not even consider how the dollars are raised, and from whom. Even if I contribute a million bucks, I can legally only vote once.
We’re always looking at presidential campaign fundraising levels. Some have pointed out that in this last period, teh One actually raised less than GWB did at this point in his reelect. Others are sweating the much touted ONE BILLION DOLLARS O is supposed to raise this go around. OK then.
Sure, money is the mother’s milk of politics, or so it’s said. But what-in-heck do you do with the money? I know some Congressional and state candidates, pocket it. But let’s talk campaigning here. Where does the money go?
Hire staff. Rent office space & equipment. Travel & transportation. Direct mail. Info technology. Polling. Buy stuff, like billboards, yard signs and T-shirts and so forth. Maybe even (especially if you’re a Democrat) some ‘walking-around money’. Or other goodies, booze or cigs.
But, let’s face it, most dollars go for broadcast advertising, primarily television advertising. We even tend to judge campaigns by the amount of money they have for it because it’s expensive. We think so-and-so is in trouble because she can’t afford to buy more television advertising. Or he’s first out of the gate in Iowa with this great TV ad. Hmmm.
I’ll be the first to acknowledge that others, more experienced and knowledgeable, know the ramifications of advertising inside and out. They have it down to a science, they understand how it works. Do they really?
Last Halloween weekend, I got to interact with lots of folks in my area, my precinct and those nearby. This happens when you spend time trudging neighborhoods, ringing doorbells, knocking on doors, chatting with people, hanging stuff on doorknobs. Also getting rained on, being chased by dogs, avoiding their end-product in the grass and listening to their owners yell at you. But I digress.
If you weren’t aware, Illinois had a nasty election cycle last November involving the gubernatorial and US senate races, and others. Around my parts, TV advertising approached total saturation. Morning, noon & night, my neighbors and I were bombarded with political ads, many highly negative. Gov Quinn re opponent Bill Brady: “Who IS this guy?”. Giannoulias versus Kirk, crooked banker, squanderer of college savings versus a congressman who LIED about his military service. And so on, ad infinitum, again & again. And again. (and again)
I’ve no idea how many millions were spent by candidates just in my TV market. It had to have been substantial. The thing is, as I walked precincts, a sizable majority of voters hated it, had tuned it out, just wanted it to be over. Kind of like a root canal. From what I could tell, the saturation campaigns had no appreciable favorable affect on anyone. In some cases, the opposite; it suppressed turnout. “I wasn’t sure who to vote for, but with these #@$% ads, screw ’em both, not voting!”. Wow! Now there’s money well spent!
People obviously fall into certain categories; some are die-hard Dems, some R’s; many don’t care or vote at all. Sometimes it’s based on candidate’s personality or looks or whatever. But I can tell you this: TV advertising dollars alone, especially for smears, don’t always tell you how the electoral wind is blowing. Overkill, saturation advertising, positive or negative, turns people off. Seriously off.
So unless a candidate is actually buying votes, literally paying people cash to vote (illegal in most places not Chicago), some of this horse-race handicapping, based upon dollars raised, is bogus. Name recognition, hearing about issues & positions is one thing; driving the electorate up the wall with ads is a whole ‘nother ball game–a losing one. Like Vassar said, this will be one of those elections that transcend money. Bank on it.