Leah Seupersad, 404-413-1354
Public Relations and Marketing Communications
ATLANTA — The candidate who spent the most money during a presidential campaign has historically caused voters to choose the nominee that least matched their views, according to new research from Georgia State University.
Sean Richey, an associate professor of political science, studied presidential elections from 1972 to 2004, and compared whom voters were predicted to vote for to whom they actually voted for. When there’s a difference from the actual and predicted vote, it suggests that voters are choosing the “incorrect candidate,” Richey said.
“We know about half of all spending goes to advertising, but money can also be spent on more sophisticated consultants, a larger team on the ground and a better media campaign,” Richey said. “If you have a financial advantage, you’re going to be able to do more polling and focus groups to achieve more persuasion, so it’s not simply about buying more ads, but buying better ads that are made by a more skilled team.”
Richey analyzed survey data from the American National Election Studies. The survey asked voters a range of questions about their political and ideological beliefs, which Richey used to gauge voter behavior through a correct voting scoring system developed by political scientists Richard Lau and David Redlawsk.
Richey determined whether or not a voter chose the “incorrect candidate” by analyzing if voters selected the candidate of the same party they identified with, and if that candidate corresponded to social groups they said they are closer to. He also noted if voters picked the candidate who agreed with policy issues they supported. For example, if voters said they were moderately “pro-life” they were given a point for voting correctly if they chose any “pro-life” candidate.
Based on his findings, incorrect voting has led to the wrong candidate being elected in three out of the last nine elections, Richey said.
“These results suggest that the Republicans’ financial advantage gave them the purchasing power to create persuasive campaigns that disproportionately brought incorrect votes to the Republican side,” Richey wrote. “As the Republican advantages in campaign resources grew, their share of incorrect voting grew.”
The Democratic Party benefited from incorrect voting in 1976, Richey explained, but after the Reagan years, the Republican Party greatly increased their financial advantage in presidential elections, giving them a four-to-five percentage point increase in incorrect votes. If voters had chosen correctly, as predicted, Gerald Ford would have defeated Jimmy Carter in 1976.
“There is no doubt that the Democratic candidates in this period tried to persuade voters to vote incorrectly for them, but these results suggest that their weaker financial position created an imbalance in campaign persuasiveness that led to skew in incorrect voting,” he wrote in the study.
Richey also notes that the number of candidates in the elections, candidate distinctiveness, political knowledge, political interest and involvement lowers instances of incorrect voting for both parties, while television viewing has no impact.
This study comes as Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama break campaign spending records.
Richey said this study is strong evidence for the need for campaign finance reform, and also more civic education to stimulate political knowledge and sophistication across social groups.
“Unlike 2008, this time Obama is behind in spending,” Richey said. “It will be interesting to update my study by looking at the two elections, one with Obama spending more in 2008, and one where he is behind in spending in 2012.”
Richey’s study was published in Political Research Quarterly.
Oct. 16, 2012