Bloomberg did a nice favor by compiling how much candidates have spent versus how much their poll numbers have changed:
And this is their methodology:
We decided to chart the relationship, or lack thereof, between spending and success in the polls. For spending, we compiled Federal Election Commission data on how much each presidential campaign and presidential super-PAC spent through Dec. 31. (New data for January will be disclosed Feb. 20.) Then we looked at the change in position in the polls, based on the average poll ranking for each candidate as compiled by Pollster.com. We compared each candidate’s position at the end of December to their rank as of June 29.
The writer, Zachary Mider, explains that big money hasn’t done much for Jeb Bush, while Donald Trump has done remarkably well while spending very little. Mider admits that part of Trump’s success is due in part to his ability to generate free publicity, but I think there’s more to it than that.
The relationships we see here aren’t all that strange if you think about them for a minute. Clinton has spent the most, yet her poll numbers have gone down. But that shouldn’t be surprising given she started way, way ahead and has only had (and will only have) one real competitor in Bernie Sanders, whom many voters were not familiar with until the end of last year and the beginning of this year. Were his message as moderate as Clinton’s (a la Martin O’Malley, who never gained traction) instead of the more staunchly leftist one he’s proposed, Clinton would probably still be far ahead.
On the other hand, Trump is able to get away with spending so little because he was a household name decades before he got in the race. If we traced the spikes that other candidates have received when they spout crazy nonsense, we’d see one for Carson regarding his comment on Obamacare being akin to slavery, or one for Fiorina and her lies about Planned Parenthood. But since neither have name recognition the way Trump does (same as when Michelle Bachmann or Herman Cain had their bumps), they faded.
Finally, Bush got his money largely in part because of his name, because for some reason rich idiots across the country couldn’t fathom why voters wouldn’t want another Bush in office so soon. Rubio isn’t exactly hurting, but imagine what his poll numbers might be had he the kind of dough Jeb has blown through. It’s not out of the question that establishment Republicans would have coalesced around him a lot sooner, partly saving themselves from the headache they have now. And even in Jeb’s hands that money might have worked better had he not Donald Trump haranguing him from the beginning. Trump is an anomaly anyway, and how many Donald Trumps does anyone think are going to run in the future? I can’t name one.
So I won’t take this as evidence that campaign spending doesn’t work—just take a look at past Presidential elections and who spent more and who work—or that the outcry over Citizens United is overblown. It’s a new system, a scary one, and I’m sure donors are taking notes about how they’ve spent their money and are wising up as to how to do it more efficiently next time. Not only that, but we’ve yet to pick a nominee for either party and are still a while a way from that happening—or even having a clearer idea of who they might be.
So consider, then, that in 2015 alone these candidates raised through super-PACs and their campaigns a colossal $786 million. “The Failure of Money to Buy the Presidential Nomination”? Hardly. We’re only getting started.