The Thought Refuse

A Virtual Repository for the Mind

Palin’s Wardrobe and The Problem of Campaign Money

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Much has been made about the RNC spending on Sarah Palin’s wardrobe which has totaled $150,000.  The story has elicited the predictable angry reaction from the Democrats and Obama supporters.  It’s become another piece of partisan fodder that marks all presidential campaigns.

The number is meaningless without any form of context.  Amid all the reporting of Palin’s wardrobe spending, no research has gone into past campaign spending in this area.  Without knowing how much Obama’s campaign has spent on similar items or without historical spending figures for previous presidential candidate’s, the number has little value because it has no frame of reference.  It’s quite likely that all campaign’s budget an amount for their candidate’s wardrobe and other related expenses.  The question really becomes was Palin’s expenses exponentially greater then others.  Personally, I’ll reserve judgement on the money spent on Palin’s wardrobe.

What can be said about this story is that voter responses are reactionary and misplaced.  Consider the amount of money campaign’s spend on advertising and the overall net effect that advertising has on the outcome of an election.

The typical presidential campaign largest expense is advertising.  For instance, Obama has raised an estimated $600 million this year and is set to break the record set on campaign advertising set by George W. Bush in 2004.  That number Obama is going to exceed is $188 million.  Obama is spending $10 million dollars alone on a 30 minute infomercial set to air just before election day.  McCain is spending an equal proportion of his campaign budget on advertising albeit not nearly approaching the total dollar amount.  There is nothing outrageous or noteworthy in the quantitative value of Obama’s spending on advertising as it’s equally proportional to all recent presidential election campaigns.

However, consider the qualitative effect on the outcome of an election based on the quantitative spending of a candidate.  In a paper by Steven Levitt, he shows that campaign spending has very little effect on the outcome of an election.  Previously, research had shown that incumbent spending had minimal qualitative effect on an election outcome, the amount a challenger spent had tangible implications.  The major flaw in all previous research, as Levitt points out, is that they never accounted for the quality of the candidate.

The crux of Levitt’s argument is that the level of appeal a candidate possess’ directly influences his ability to raise campaign funds.  Hence, campaign spending is the product of a candidate’s quality with voters, and not vice versa.  In order to account for the appeal variable, Levitt examined thousands of Congressional elections in which the same two candidates faced each other multiple times.

Levitt discovered that when able to control the candidate quality variable, in almost all cases increasing campaign spending did not effect the outcome of an election.  A losing candidate who spent twice as much money in his second contest between the same opponent could expect a similar percentage of the vote within 1%.  Likewise, an incumbent who spent half as much money in his second contest against the same challenger could count on the same outcome within 1% point.

This is not to say that campaign spending and political advertisements do not have an effect on the outcome of an election.  Psychological research has shown that while a voter with a predisposed affective state towards a candidate will filter his cognition and subsequent behavior when exposed to political ads(a pro-Obama supporter is likely to react to a pro-Obama ad positively while negatively to a pro-McCain ad), the effect is far more pronounced when the candidate is a known quantity.  When a candidate is unknown to a voter, he is more likely to evaluate the contents of an advertisement divested of his party affiliation, ideology, partisanship, and affected state.

The benefit of political advertising lies primarily with introducing the public to a candidate in order to establish an affected state.  But once the candidate becomes a known quantity and the affected state is established, political advertising begins to exceed a redundant saturation level where in the size of the effectual target audience reduces.  The more that people are informed and have formed an opinion on a candidate, the less efficient advertising becomes.  Research has shown that the more familiar a voter is with a candidate the less effectual advertising becomes.  Advertising yields the highest return with voters who are unfamiliar with a candidate.

Under this presumption, it can be said that political advertising is an offensive tool for a campaign but progressively becomes a diffusive element towards success.  The implication here is that as a candidate gains wider appeal across the linear chronology of a campaign, the efficacious value of his campaign money increases.

Considering in conjunction that a candidate’s financial resources increase synchronously with his appeal and a candidate’s appeal accumulates alongside the campaign ad hoc, a candidate is more likely to expend a greater amount in advertising in the latter stages of his campaign.  So, a candidate is spending his greater percentage of funds on advertising at a time when they are least effective.

Yet, the wardrobe of Sarah Palin, which is an image advertisement, draws noticeable media coverage and voter outrage while candidates allocate the largest proportional of campaign funds at a time when of the least consequence evokes relative silence.  Even doubly perplexing is that Palin, being an unknown and unfamiliar to the voter base, benefits the most from image and issue advertising when compared to Obama, McCain, and Biden.

Of course, Palin’s created her own self-attack advertising campaign through her repeated issue gaffes.  Respectively, she is becomes a known candidate carrying a negative affected state among voters.  That affected state has established the groundwork for voter behavior in response to her wardrobe expenditures.  Examining political advertising critically, $150,000 expended at a time when it’s most effective as compared to $10 million(Obama informercial) outlayed at a time of least effectiveness, I have to call into question the informational cognition voters exhibit towards politics.

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Written by huxbux

October 26, 2008 at 12:27 am

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