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Money in elections

Money matters more for challengers than it does for incumbents. Decades of political science research demonstrates that the more a challenger spends, the more likely he or she is to win.

That’s because incumbents have many advantages, not the least of which is name recognition and free media. So, challengers must spend more to overcome the obstacles they face, from name recognition to formidable incumbent war chests meant to scare off a challenger. Unfortunately for challengers, those barriers are high enough that they rarely raise enough money to compete.

Yet money does not guarantee a victory. Simply looking at the average amount spent by winners and losers obscures the fact that many races have no real competition.

In 2016, winning incumbents far outspent their challengers, but the winners in open seat contests spent nearly the same amount as their opponents, while those incumbents who lost outspent their winning opponents half of the time.

In short, incumbents who spend more than their opponent in contested races are more likely to be the candidates who are vulnerable and lose.

Does money buy influence?

Money matters in the most competitive races, open seat races that have no incumbent and those with high profile candidates. More money will be spent by the candidates in these races, but also by those who would like to influence the outcome.

One concern that is often expressed is that winners answer to their donors and those organisations who support them.

Since 2010, the role of outside money, or money from super PACs and political non-profits, has raised alarms in the media and from reform groups.


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