All this just for them?

In spite of clichés about Nascar dads and Walmart moms, the actual share of voters nationally who are up for grabs is probably between just 3 percent and 5 percent in this election, polling experts say. The Obama and Romney campaigns are expected to spend on the order of $2 billion, in part to try to sway this tiny share of the electorate.

I’ll be glad when the whole thing is over.  There is also this:

In Virginia, for example, a large number of swing voters are concentrated in Fairfax County, just outside the District of Columbia…

The full article is here.


"I’ll be glad when the whole thing is over"

Amen, brother. Why we can't limit elections to 3-6 months like other countries do is beyond...oh wait, the First Amendment. Shoot.

Not being snarky, seriously wish we could suspend the First for electioneering and polling limits. Then again, elections provide a nice stimulus every couple of years.

The problem is not the length of the campaign. It is what swing voters respond to. It's not certain to what degree, but all the over-the-top mailers and incessant tv spots do seem to work. You can't blame candidates for spending what really amounts to a pittance relative to other expenditures on effective methods that have very high payoffs.

For all the griping, voters actually seem to enjoy the years long spectacle. Even if you had a legal window for campaigning, you can't actually stop politicians from maneuvering. Why not keep that maneuvering out in the open as much as possible?

voters actually seem to enjoy the years long spectacle

Perhaps party members do, but I doubt those 3-5% of swing votes pay much attention.

There are hardly any swing voters, and little evidence campaign communications have much effect.

Campaign ads matter for short periods of time when one candidate has a massive spending advantage and both candidates are relatively unknown. None of that seems to be the case this year.

However, like an echo chamber, the media keeps talking about the campaign as if it currently matters, so...then the candidates act as if their campaigns matter.

In other words, "little evidence [they] have much effect".

To be fair, if I've done my math right, that works out to around $150 per undecided voter per candidate. I would have expected it to be much higher.

Looks like the right order of magnitude:
2010 voter turnout of 90,732,693 people
5% = 4,536,634 people
$1,000,000,000/4,536,634 = $220/person

godawful formatting, my apologies.

Yep, only difference was that I was using 2008 voter turnout (higher in presidential years).

Your calculation is wrong.

There are five to ten important swing states. The few genuine swing voters in Ohio, Iowa, Virginia, New Hampshire, and Colorado will have well over $1000 each spent on them by each campaign.

Swing voters in California or Mississippi are unlikely to see a single ad or mailer from the presidential candidates. Outside the swing states, they're barely citizens at all.

Do voters try to game the system by pretending they're "swing". Shouldn't there be an incentive for such behavior?

Why not lie to pollsters to get more attention?

Because the attention is obnoxious, to say the least. I live in a swing state, in a competitive district for all of the legislative races. In addition to the over-the-top seemingly nonstop radio and TV ads, the mailbox will be stuffed full for the next three months. I have a box where I'm putting all of the campaign literature that arrives. My bet with my wife is that there will be at least ten pounds of that junk this time.

Isn't there at least some welcome spillover? Ruling party approving state-level pork, building infrastructure, granting grants etc.

Is the US election so ethical and clean that this sort of stuff never happens?

Rahul: yes, there have been studies that found patterns of government spending changes in election years that were plausibly about buying votes.

This makes total sense. Do you have any idea how many voters this is? There were about 130M voters nationally in 2008. Assuming that stays about the same and that the 3-5% number above is accurate that's about 4 to 6.5M swing voters nationally. But if you just count the ones in the important swing states how few are we down to? 1 or 2 million? Less? Kinda crazy when you think about it.

"All this just for them?"

No, it's also for juicing up turnout from the base.

I think you meant to say "depressing turnout from the other side's base".

Only way Obama wins at this point is to keep turnout low. And voter fraud. Sweet, sweet voter fraud.

Clearly a Fox News watcher.

Only way Romney wins at this point is to keep turnout low. And voter suppression. Sweet, sweet voter suppression.

You must be delusional, dude...

say something about the New Black Panthers too

It's really unfortunate that Joshua's thread turned so partisan, since his observation that the only thing that matters is whether one's supporters actually vote is pretty much right on.

Being from a safe state, if you never mentioned it I'd not know there was an election coming up.

That's a good point. I'm in one too. But both sides drop in a lot to raise money to spend in the battleground states.

I am in a reliably red state. It doesn't matter who I vote for for president. I have two red state senators-for life. I have a red state congressman-for life. If I moved about a mile away, I could have my state's only blue district in a red state congressman-for-life (created especially to protect the blue congressman-for life from red voters, and to protect numerous red congressmen-for-life from blue voters).. The governorship ping-pongs back and forth, but we have one of the constitutionally weakest governors in the country, so it doesn't really matter. The state legislature is red. County council is about the only real vote I get. But at least I can tune out this moronic campaign without feeling any guilt.

I live in Manhattan, and obviously I am in the same situation, for opposite partisan reasons. I think the last genuinely contested election in my congressional district, primary or general election, was in 1994. But when you think about it, that was when the last competitive election for Governor of New York occurred -challengers to Pataki were pretty weak, and then the Republicans didn't put up much of a fight when the office switched parties in 2006. For state legislature, forget it. Due to term limits imposed by the voters, since repealed by the politicians, there have been a few contested elections for City Council, but in New York City city councilman is a pretty powerless office.

Basically during my adult life I either vote for the incumbent or cast a protest vote for a fringe party (in Manhattan, the Republicans are a fringe party). I'm sure my experience has affected my perspective on how democracy in the United States works.

And yeah I probably should move, but when I did live outside Manhattan, except for periods in school or the army, it was in Jersey City.

But guys, this is an Econ blog. Don't y'all know that taking the trouble to cast your own vote is hard to impossible to justify on economic grounds? It's not like it's gonna be a tie except for your vote.

I wonder to what extent the views of the economically-inclined are underrepresented on accounta this phenomenon. Anyone else feeling oppressed by the system?

Hoopla aside, this election doesn't matter that much. I think I'll vote Libertarian.

I live in DC and have been seeing a fair amount of ads on television. I think it is just regional market spillover from VA-targeted ads, but I'm not sure.

Thank goodness for premium cable (no advertising) and DVR (you go right through the commercials).

Tyler, leaving aside that you insist on relying in a NYT article to discuss politics (I prefer The Onion), you should have pointed the big mistake in the article and in regular reporting of U.S. elections. The money spent in any election is much larger than the one collected directly by a candidate's campaign. The incumbent party spends a lot of public money that indirectly finances its candidate --this time it appears to be that huge amounts of money are being spent by Obama.

In addition, the election is not only about the next president but about the next Congress. I'm not familiar with the research on how the two elections are related in your country, but I assume the relation is strong enough not to be ignored (except, of course, by reporters that are asked to ignore it). And once the public money spent to support indirectly candidates to Congress is counted, the total cost of this November election will be several times higher than the $2 billion mentioned in the article.

Assuming that a voter's commitment to a candidate varies continuously from 0 to 100, I assume that for the a large majority of voters the degree of commitment is between 20 and 80 and I doubt that good research has been done on the forces that have been determining changes in that degree during the last two months of elections. If I'm right, then the NYT article will be giving a wrong idea of what is going on. Hope you're willing to discuss your voting decision making process with your readers. To be fair with you, I voted only once in my life (more than 50 years ago) and since then I have been voting for none of the above (by law, even living abroad I'm required to vote or to justify not to vote) because I have never had a good reason to support a candidate.

E., you are a world-class crank. Keep on truckin'.

You got fooled. This wasn't a genuine EB posting.

It isn't an authentic EB post if it doesn't call someone a "clown".........

I thought he said he was going to "vote with his feet" and stop reading this blog because Tyler had the audacity to link to an Ezra Klein post. with his eyeballs rather.......

If the federal government were much smaller, much less costly and less intrusive, I wouldn't care about the election either.

Sorry Rich, but even a small loaf leaves enough crumbs for the ants to care about how it is sliced.

Then we stomp the ants!

And, of course, many undecided voters (probably even the majority) will not be targeted in the Presidential race because they live in states like California, New York, or Texas.

Unless you're predisposed to believe people with fancy titles and authoritative declarations (i.e., you are a reporter), that 3% to 5% figure is not persuasive. The only thing persent in the article that I'd call evidence is a few general observations.

You might read, for starters, "Unconventional Wisdom" by Kaufmann, Shaw, and Petrocik. Among other things, it has very careful consideration of the number of "persuadable" voters.

I'm not sure if these numbers are taking this into account, but the number of swing voters that actually matter (that live in voting districts that are swing districts) is surely smaller.

I made the unfortunate mistake to move to a swing state and also one where there is a close Senate race (Florida).
At the gym today, there were three political ads on at the same time on the five televisions they had on.
In the last week we've had no less than ten phone calls from the campaigns and pollsters.
Excited to see election day come and go is an understatement.

This illustrates why I don't think money matters very much at the Presidential level. There aren't that many people susceptible to being persuaded by ad spending, the ad spending may not reach them anyway, and there is so much free publicity from the media, It's all like the US - USSR arms race thirty years ago - no one expects the added spending to make much of a difference once you get over a certain threshold of weaponry, but the spending goes on because each is afraid to be seen as falling behind, and then the arms-managers learn to exploit these fears to extract more dollars to fund their compensation.

Ads can be used for more than persuasion for your candidate. They can also gin up your base to make sure they show up on election day.

Seeing as how the predominant nuclear war strategy of both sides was a counter-force strike, having more delivery systems would actually provide a significant advantage in the event of a conflict. Add faster delivery times, more secure C&C systems, etc.

Not that arms companies didn't stoke fears for economic purposes, just clarifying a common misconception.

More than that, saturating mass media with probably the only way to effectively construct national identity nowadays.

This is why the biggest beneficiaries from Citizens United are not the billionaires giving money, but rather...

When campaigns buy ads they are paying about a penny per minimum "impression" over all media. Reality check that with a Superbowl commercial that costs $1,000,000 and hits maybe 100 million people. So if one spends $220 per person, the average victim will be hit by 220 x 100 ads, or 22,000 impressions over the span of the campaign.

Assumes all spent on tv buy, and not consultants, trips, door to door, mail, etc.

Nobody in politics thinks the election is about changing the minds of swing voters. As anyone who has managed a campaign can tell you, it's all about turning out the base - which should be even more clear after reading this article. (Campaign volunteers might think otherwise - it's a lot easier to get them motivated if they think they're changing people's minds...)

There just aren't enough swing voters to worry about, and it's too hard to move them. Selectively getting out the vote is everything.

What are the economics of legislative chicanery preventing people on the other side from voting? It probably costs the party machine very little.

So the amount is some $200/swing voter.

I can't help thinking that you could find each group of these voters, pick something real to spend the money on that represents your cause and has a real benefit to the community, and let that speak for you.

And your explanation of why you are doing that, which seems so much like a bribe? "It's costing us less than the other party is spending on commercials and glitter to persuade you. Which approach do you prefer?"


@paul already mentioned this above, but it's worth restating. From my experience, campaigns are more focused on turning out the base than they are in attempting to convince swing voters.

And that (imo) is where things get interesting. It's possible that the messaging one uses to convince a swing voter could turn off a person in the base (and vice versa). So, how do campaigns choose a strategy that maximizes returns?

Yeah, but the argument is that swing voters just don't matter; it is just the base that matters. I would add one leg to this argument, namely that the goal of a campaign is to get your voters out to the polls and to demoralize the other guy's voters so as to convince them not to go to the polls. The reason so many ads are negative is that, unlike positive ads, negative ads both energize your own voters and, if they are effective, demoralize the other guy's voters at the same time.

There are no swing voters. Just remember this when you hear stuff like "Romney needs to get 40% of the latino vote" or "Obama needs to get 45% of the married woman vote." What these assertions really mean is that Romney needs to discourage enough Democrat leaning latinos to stay away from the polls so that he can get 40% of the total latino vote and Obama needs to discourage enough married evangelical women from voting so that he can get 45% of the married women to vote for him.

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