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The power of investing in state races

September 13th, 2012, 9:00pm by Sam Wang


From Abby Rapoport at The American Prospect via Andrew Sullivan, a must-read on how “Down-ticket races matter a lot in shaping policy—that’s why conservatives are smart enough to invest in them.” She writes about state legislatures, but it’s the same for House and Senate races. And who loves such a bang for their buck most of all? Republican outside groups, which in July I pointed out would be likely.

Tags: 2012 Election · House · Senate

15 Comments so far ↓

  • G. Camp III

    This subject came up at lunch today. On one hand, we’re outraged when the big money comes in from outside and skews a vote (e.g. the Koch brothers in the WI Walker recall). On the other hand, we want to contribute to what we believe in and our money to have the greatest effect. If an NJ resident contributes to a candidate in MA, one can argue that the only difference between the two is scale. In countering the GOP money with our own, are we contributing to the problem?

  • Matt McIrvin

    If the Romney campaign continues to slide to oblivion, I’d expect some of that big Republican money to come sloshing downticket into Congressional races as the donors stop throwing good money after bad.

  • MarkS

    We may be outraged, but this is the way the system currently works. I’d be happy to change it if I could, but I can’t, so I’m focusing my donations to have the best chance of achieving the results I want. Control of the Senate is crucial, especially if Reid is serious about reforming filibuster rules.

  • pechmerle

    Control of the Senate is crucial.

    Even if Reid is serious about filibuster reform, though, he won’t get 51 votes for it even with a nominal Democratic majority. Too many in both parties will be unwilling to give up the leverage afforded under the current rules.

    I wish it were otherwise.

    @G. Camp: Scale matters greatly in campaign finance. Contributions to candidates and official committees are already limited (in various tiered ways), in recognition of this, under McCain Feingold. The spirit of that law is precisely that very large contributions corrupt the electoral process.

    Of course under Citizens United, there are now no such limitations on “independent” expenditures. Trying to counter the resulting impact of big money from a few big individuals or organization with impact from small money from a great many ordinary citizens (who will certainly not gain undue access by making such contributions) seems entirely appropriate to me. So we who make these smaller outside contributions are not part of the problem; we are part of the only solution currently possible.

  • Ralph Reinhold

    Yes, down ticket items matter. Third parties need to get that through their head. I think that if the Green and Libertarian parties quit wasting their resources on the President and concentrate on a few targeted seats, they would have people in the house. I could see Greens in northern CA, OR, WA, MI, MN, ID, CO, and WI at least. I could see Liberterians in all of those states (but different districts) and most of the mountain states and old south. I think they could handily have a big influence in legislatures in as many as forty states. THEN, they could start looking to the presidency.

  • Olav Grinde

    (This comment is perhaps more relevant here than to yesterday’s post. Apologies for double-posting.)

    @Tapen Sinha: Your graph showing the high degree of correlation between the Standard & Poor Index and Obama’s approval rating was news to me. Quite striking!

    Thank you for the article in  The American Prospect. The extent, deep organization and heavy financing of the state-level efforts came as a shock to me. Especially since, as the article points out, this has a profound impact on people but is nevertheless under-the-radar.

    Tapen Sinha, this really appears to be “Democracy for sale to the highest bidder”. And since after the US Supreme Court’s reversal of key provisions in the McCain-Feingold Campaign Reform, there seem to be no laws requiring transparency.

    Frightening. Absolutely frightening!

    @Ralph Reinhold: That’s a fascinating strategy you’re proposing for third parties. I think you’re spot on. As it is, third parties have virtually zero chance of making an impact — except to “help” decid which of the other two parties win!

  • Olav Grinde

    @pechmerle: I must admit I question the wisdom of filibuster reform. There will come a time when there is Republican control of the Senate, and this will perhaps be the only means for the Democrats to counter questionable bills.

    I’m surprised that concern doesn’t appear to be part of the current debate.

    • Sam Wang

      Olav, Of course that’s a concern. In my view, a very large concern at the moment is that the US legislature can hardly get anything done. I think campaign finance can’t be addressed until we get Congress working a bit better.

      Here are some people I think very well of, James Fallows (more) and Norm Ornstein and Thomas Mann, presenting arguments to this effect. Fallows has written a key article for the Atlantic which may be linked from one of those pieces, about how the US can rise again.

  • Olav Grinde

    @Dr Wang: Thanks for the links! I’ll check out those articles.

    Yesterday, Tapen Sinha wrote about the Federal Reserve Board’s decision to implement a new round of quantitative easing (QE3). I almost got the impression that some consider this “game over”.

    Are there any substantive predictions about what effect this may have on job creation & the unemployment rate before the 6th of November?

    • Sam Wang

      Olav – I am not an economics/finance type (I seem to recall Tapen is). However, it is hard to imagine quantitative easing by the Federal Reserve having an effect in seven weeks on anyone but the investor and banking class. That includes Mitt Romney and most television/cable personalities, so maybe it will help.

  • Olav Grinde

    Yes, I seem to recall that Tapen’s speciality is research on national pension programmes. Such as Social Security… It would be interesting to hear his take on these and related issues.

  • Steve in Colorado

    NPR had a piece this morning talking about Obama’s advertising blitz- intimating that it had held the Republican’s convention’s bounce to almost nothing and exaggerated Obama’s bounce.
    And now Romney will have plenty of money to turn the tables while Obama has tighter finances. I’ve definitely seen about equal amounts of TV advertising, but now I’m getting a fair amount of attack ads in the mail, but only from Romney. It’s making me worried about a shift in the next 50 days and leads me to think that we can’t shift any funds away from the presidential race.
    My parents live in MA and seem to think that Warren will win as long as the main race doesn’t make the healthcare law the main issue.

  • Matt McIrvin

    The fear of future reversals is most of the reason why the Senate never gets rid of the filibuster. Of course there will always be some future time when a party you don’t like is in control, and you’ll want your party’s Senators to have that obstructive power.

    In practice, though, the Democrats were never able or willing to use it to the degree that the Republicans have. The current regime in which 60 votes is the de facto threshold to pass anything in the Senate is really unprecedented. The minority party just did not do this before; the filibuster was a power they mostly held in reserve.

    I think that on the whole it’s better to bite the bullet and allow majority rule instead of do-nothing rule. The party that wins should have some ability to run things. The remedy for a misbehaving Congress is political: hold them accountable and vote them out.

  • Olav Grinde

    Re: Filibuster reform…
    Here is a striking summary by Joshua Green (Bloomberg Business Week / The Boston Globe:

    “An easy way to grasp [the filibuster’s] importance, and why filibuster abuse has made Washington such an angry, dysfunctional place, is to imagine what the country would look like without it.

    Let’s take only the Obama presidency. Had the filibuster not applied, the United States would have a market-based system to control carbon emissions, which would limit the damage from global warming, vitalize the clean technology sector, and challenge other large polluters like China and India to do the same. The new health care law would have a public option. Children of undocumented immigrants who served two years in the military or went to college could become US citizens. Women paid less than their male colleagues because of their gender would have broader legal recourse against their employers. Billionaires would not be able to manipulate the political system from behind a veil of anonymity.

    Dozens of vacant judgeships would have been filled. The Federal Reserve would have operated with a full slate of governors, including Nobel Prize-winning economist Peter Diamond. Elizabeth Warren would be director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, not a candidate for the Senate….

    Each of these measures passed the House and received, or would have received, at least the 50 votes necessary to pass the Senate — but lacked the 60 votes to break a filibuster.

    Wow! He’s describing a different country!

    http://articles.boston.com/2012-05-18/opinion/31749851_1_filibuster-public-option-senate

  • pechmerle

    Olav, yes it’s a striking list. But it is just another form of Sam’s comment that without the current filibuster regime, we would have something closer to a democratic legislature in this country.

    One does have to keep in mind that a similar but opposite list could be created from the hypothesis of a Congress with Republican majorities in both houses. An example that comes readily to mind, is ‘yay, no federal funding for abortions ever.’ Or, ‘yay, no funding for the EPA until it changes its rules on [pick your favorite].’ Etc., etc.

    I’m not saying I don’t want majority rule in Congress. Certainly that would be more consistent with the Constitution than this Senate home-made 60-vote rule. But you would certainly go through periods when many, many things you didn’t like became law.

    (All that leaves the presidential veto out of account. Essentially any veto by a president — whether a Democrat or a Republican — can’t be overridden in the current polarized state of our politics. But neither G.W. Bush nor Obama has had to pull that trigger on a veto, and take the political consequences that come from doing so, thanks to the filibuster rule coming in to play first.)

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