The relationship between fundraising and electoral support

Many people are worried about money in politics. They think that all the fundraising is bad because a candidate who raises money can then spend it on electoral success. In this way, money is supposed to be distorting American politics.

But there is an ongoing question in the social sciences about whether raising money makes a politician a strong candidate, or whether being a strong candidate helps one raise money. If the latter is true, then it seems that money is just a harmless byproduct or a demonstration or sign of how attractive the candidate already is.

But even if the latter is true, and fundraising is just a byproduct of being a good candidate, there may be reason to lament the money in politics.

If money is not an exogenous variable that can help a poor candidate beat a superior candidate, then money is an endogenous candidate which demonstrates which candidate had a more attractive history/platform/etc all along. So, the big spending by winning candidates is just proof that they’re attractive candidates in the sense that they are responsive to people.

But why is the candidate attractive? Perhaps they are attractive for all the wrong reasons. Perhaps they are a pretty face or have a talent for rhetoric. And every minute that attractive candidates spend raising and spending money is time that they don’t spend clarifying their positions to the people who already believe in them or convincing those who don’t yet agree that they should. In other words, the fact that strong candidates manifest their strength through advertising and fundraising says something about our democratic system. In a different democratic system, strong candidates might manifest their strength by other metrics that aren’t easy to quantify such as number of people convinced or number of new voters that voted for them, etc.



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