This year, all campaign contributions made to candidates in local, state, and federal elections have amounted to (following the final debate of the 2012 Presidential Campaign) more than $77 billion. The presidential campaigns alone have spent nearly $500 million on campaign ads, and don’t seem likely to run out of money yet, pulling in a combined $140 million in the month of September. The 2008 presidential election set records for the costliest in U.S. history, and ended up setting each of the candidates back $5.4 billion. Projections for the current presidential election will cost near $6 billion, which is (very) roughly a 10% increase and, in case anyone is interested, an increase that is just about the GDP of our own little American protectorate, American Samoa, who, of course, cannot vote for the President of the United States.
Conventional wisdom (or general logic) would suggest that money spent on campaigns would be intended to entice American voters who have not yet decided how their blessed franchise will be spent on November 6, 2012. Anyone who pays attention to American politics might be able to understand that this money, then, is being well spent. Liberals in the United States have felt betrayed by Barack Obama since he took office in 2009, and before landing on Mitt Romney as their candidate, Republicans flirted with much more exciting, if also more ridiculous conservative ideologues. Nobody seems particularly excited about their party’s representation at the upcoming election, so it stands to reason that campaigns might be trying to court those voters who feel abandoned or unenthused. Polling would suggest that the undecided pool of voters makes up only 6% of the electorate, and that 6% are among the least likely to vote. Just days before the 2008 presidential elections, 6.4% of voters were undecided.
This exposition of the absurd amount of cash that is poured into becoming an elected official in this country is not meant to criticize the recently upheld notion that political contributions constitute expressions of free speech, as guaranteed by the First Amendment of the US Constitution. What the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United did made it easier for corporations and individuals to donate massive sums of money to Political Action Committees, who are free to put whatever they like on the airwaves, so long as they are not officially affiliated with a particular candidates campaign. The issue, of course, is that these PACs are inherently, if not explicitly, oriented one way or the other. The result, therefore, is a deluge of toxic campaign rhetoric and regurgitation of stump speeches from either side of the aisle that, as noted above, is targeted towards an increasingly smaller portion of the population. More money is being put into political advertisements than ever, but fewer potential voters are deciding on their preferred candidates. If campaigns are not trying to pull voters towards their candidates, they are trying to mobilize their base, to ensure they make it to the polls.
American politics have become a practice in partisanship – very little in terms of legislation can make it through Congressional Houses because of the uncooperative atmosphere, which have led to Congressional approval ratings so low that it’s difficult to grasp how they were elected in the first place. (Comically, the above-cited study shows that approval ratings of telemarketers higher than those elected officials. If you live in the United States, those telemarketers are currently competing for airtime on your voicemail with volunteers from Congressional election campaigns). Each Presidential candidate has made it a central point to explain how they are the candidate most likely to work across the aisle; Obama citing bipartisan commissions on deficit reduction, Romney citing his ability to work with a mostly Democratic legislature while serving as Governor of Massachusetts. Supporters of both the President and the former Governor refute the other side’s claims. Whether it is coming out of an official campaign or a PAC, billions of dollars are being spent accusing the other campaign of an inability to work with the other side, which in effect, is accusing both men of being suited only for a titular role as Commander-in-Chief, but being unable to assume that role in any functional capacity.
Confused? I’ll summarize. More money is being spent to convince less people that both Presidential candidates are ill-suited for the job. It may be within the constitutional rights of individuals, corporations, and foreign entities to pour millions of dollars into campaign war chests, but the candidates, their campaigns, and PACs who support them need to consider the bad taste left in the voters’ mouth when their preferred candidate either wins or loses. 6 billion dollars is an absurd amount of money to be spent winning over an extremely small portion of the electorate. I also do understand that I’m understating the strategy that goes into winning 270 electoral votes. But in an election in which national debt, the federal deficit, the Great Recession, and unemployment rates are playing a central role, it seems inappropriate that we have so much money to spend.
Photo Credit: army.arch