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The United States Presidential Election in 2016. How Did the Financial Resources Impact the Campaigns and the Results?

Forschungsarbeit 2017 22 Seiten

Politik - Internationale Politik - Region: USA


Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2 Financial Aspects of Political Campaigning: Campaign Financing and Campaign Expenditures

3 The Presidential Election System, Campaign Fundraising and Endorsements

4 Correlations of Campaign Financing and Election Results

5 Trump’s Wallstreet and Clinton’s Silicon Valley?

6 Conclusion

7 Bibliography

1 Introduction

“Money buys access to voters” (Gierzynski and Breaux 515) is not only applicable to smaller and regional state legislative elections but to nationwide presidential elections in the United States as well. Money is an essential necessity in order to make a political campaign successful as it contributes to the name recognition of a candidate even more when the respective candidate has access to sufficient resources and thereby more access to voters than candidates with less financial resources and less financial contributions by others. In the 2016 presidential election process two well-known candidates have been nominated. Both already previously have made their mark and have become prominent members of the American society and media sphere.

On the one hand Donald Trump, a businessman who gained prominence with his real estate company and reality television appearances, primarily on his own NBC reality show The Apprentice (2004 to present). Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, former secretary of state (2009 to 2013) and former First Lady (1993 to 2001) alongside her husband Bill Clinton. While Hillary Clinton entered the race with a high level of name recognition based on her career and appearances in American politics, especially as the First Lady, even though her name and political ideology is always closely connected to that of her husband and former President Bill Clinton, Donald Trump has become famous for being a wealthy entrepreneur, for owning a real estate empire and simply for being on television and thereby be seen by most of the American public. However, from the beginning both had a much higher level of publicity than all other candidates who might have had some kind of prominence beforehand but only within a much smaller area and a more specific audience, may it be their own party and its members only. Wether a higher level of name recognition is beneficial or not, besides being able to mobilize more people based on their prominence rather than campaign content and ideologies, already established candidates are more likely to have more financial resources and to raise more money and thereby be able to spend more money on their campaign as well, which then results in a greater success during the nomination and election process. This paper focuses on the analysis of financial resources such as fundraising and personal net worth in conjunction with media coverage as well as other aspects and the impact of money on the presidential elections in 2016.

2 Financial Aspects of Political Campaigning: Campaign Financing and Campaign Expenditures

The impact of finances in political processes is of interest to both scholars and laymen (cf. Giles and Pritchard 71). Two major issues are mostly being focused on: “the sources of campaign contributions” and “the impact of campaign contributions on electoral outcomes” (ibid.), meaning the relationship betweeen fundraising and the success within the respective election. The correlation between the number of votes and expenditures is crucial to the process of voting: “if campaign expenditures do not translate into votes, then expenditures are irrelevant” (ibid.). Since candidates are eager to raise more money than all the other candidates and since the public contributes to a candidate’s finances, money must matter within the framework of political elections, otherwise money would be ignored and not raised. It has been found that electoral outcomes are influenced by four factors: “campaign expenditures, incumbency, party strength, and idiosyncratic factors”, which are campaign styles, scandals, local issues and other factors (cf. ibid.). While generally higher expenditures lead to more votes, additional expenditures after having convinced apathetic supporters do not have a significant effect anymore, which means campaign expenditures function according to the principle of diminishing marginal returns (cf. ibid.). Once all necessary voters are convinced any expenditures that exceed expenditures up until that point are irrelevant and do not lead to more voters.

Besides money being able to buy access to voters Gierzynski and Breaux argue that “state legislative candidates who have money to spend are better able to affect the vote choice than are candidates of more visible offices (i.e. those that attract greater media attention)” (515), however, even though presidential campaigns are one of those more visible offices with greater media attention it takes money as well for candidates to be seen and to be viewed and assessed positively, or at least to be assessed as innovative or exciting, by the public. Especially during primary elections the number of candidates can be quite high. During the 2016 presidential election there were six candidates running for the Demoratic Party and altogether 17 for the Republican Party (cf. Andrews et al.). Those candidates who get the most attention by potential voters and the media are either those who are already known or those who have enough financial resources to make their campaign and thereby themself visible and known to a large audience. Even though candidates and their parties have months to prepare for primaries as well as the presidential election, considering that candidates have to take care of the establishment of their name as a brand with ideologies and political content during that time, the timeframe can be exploited much more efficiently, quicker and more easily with enough financial resources. Candidates with more money to be spend have an advantage over those who do not or who have less.

Gierzynski and Breaux also state that “because voters are relatively poorly informed, they are unlikely to have as many predispositions in state legislative races as in more salient races, making it easier for candidates with money to influence their vote” (515). However, even in presidential elections voters may not be much better informed than in state legislative races since voters are likely to concentrate and base their political knowledge on mass media and nowadays use social media in order to get informed about candidates. Headlines and factors such as health (as seen with Hillary Clinton for example), appearances and personal lifestyle often overshadow news, facts and figures, even in politics.

“Expenditures [...] influence electoral outcomes in most of the elections” (Giles and Pritchard 71). Presidential elections are no exception. The following elements have an impact on the presidential nomination process: “voting behavior, resource allocation strategy, media coverage, spending, momentum and expectations, and [...] the rules” (Damore 343). Resource allocation influences other factors and is closely connected to spending and media coverage. Spending as one of those elements is, of course, preceded by fundraising. According to Damore fundraising is “a crucial component of [presidential nomination] campaigns” and it is often “assumed that fundraising moves in tandem with [the candidate’s] success” (344). As already discussed briefly money makes it possible for candidates to “advertise and promote issue positions, expand their campaign organizations, and develop other activities necessary for winning the nomination” (ibid. 344). Without money a campaign lacks reach and is likely to fail since too few people will be able to come across it. Therefore fundraising and success within the nomination process must correlate in this respect. In the cases of Donald Trump as well as Hillary Clinton both were “possessing high levels of name recognition” (ibid. 347) but of these two only Clinton was “advantaged over others by virtue of previous political experience” (ibid.). Clinton is the one who was already active within the American political sphere while Trump was active in the business and media sector. Other candidates can also look back on rather successful political careers since they have made it to the presidential nomination process. Everyone but Trump is not new to the American political network and scene, which did not prevent Donald Trump from winning the presidential election after all. Since candidates with more wealthy and therefore more influential supporters are able to use all of their resources more effectively within the election process and able to gain more attention, which then converts into voters, one may view the United States as a plutocracy rather than a democracy in this respect. The wealthy elite clearly can influence and shift the results of both primaries and the final election to a certain extent based on the amount of money they contribute with Super PACs, donations or endorsements. Wealthy candidates tend to have a wealthy network as well, which is a benefit compared to candidates with a less financially strong network.

3 The Presidential Election System, Campaign Fundraising and Endorsements

The primary election system is “a striking and unusual feature of American politics” (Hummel et al. 64). Voting for a convention delegate who will then vote for the candidate is clearly different from letting citizens vote for a candidate directly and without detours. Also, superdelegates, early voting states, the debate process including media in general, closed, open and blanket primaries as well as the “winner take all” election in some states have a strong impact on the result. Many alternatives for the primary election system have been proposed in order to create a more democratic way of electing the party’s candidates in the United States. Presidential primaries include “elections by 50 states, where the states vote in some pre-determined order” (Hummel et al. 64). It is often argued that “strong results in early states create momentum and lead to an information cascade whereby voters in later states become more likely to vote for candidates who were successful in early states” (Hummel et al. 64). Early states seem to influence states in which primaries take place afterwards. Campaigns of candidates in smaller states allow voters “to be able to meet the candidates individually and obtain precise information about their quality” (Hummel et al. 65) while larger states often do not allow such a close connection and access to candidates.

Any event during primaries and caucuses influence the following events (cf. Damore 346) and thereby every occurrence can have an impact on the result. Entering the electoral level of primaries and caucuses already entails a kind of inequality of the candidates based on “previous political experience [and] high levels of name recognition” (ibid. 347). In order to be successful in politics a well-known positively connoted name is a reliable and important factor. Damore hereby suggests two types of candidates: “established candidates, who are well-funded and well-known [...], and long-shot candidates, who are not well-known, are poorly funded, and as a consequence are ignored by the media” (ibid.). The category of long-shot candidates is not likely to be nominated because of a lack of media coverage and name recognition (cf. ibid.). Candidates that are rather unknown to the majority of voters and the general American public until then are thereby disadvantaged ab initio since they have to compensate the lack of media coverage and name recognition quickly in order to have a chance of being nominated and succeed afterwards. Compensation in these cases is difficult, time-consuming and does require sufficient financial resources in order to reach as many people as possible within a relatively small timeframe. It is much more convenient and easy for established candidates to be noticed and remembered than it is for long-shot candidates with few fame and funds. Only candidates who are successful regarding the share of votes can increase media attention and name recognition, improve their chances for fundraising and a larger share of votes in proximate contests (cf. Damore 348). Candidates who are not remain anonymous and unsuccessful.

In the United States the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA), passed in 1972, regulates fundraising and campaign spending and is supposed to improve the fundraising process and erase disadvantages. Herewith, the Federal Election Commission can “subsidize the primary campaigns and [...] fully subsidize the general-election campaigns of eligible presidential candidates” (Abrams and Settle 245). The acts is supposed to regulate and correct the inequality in campaign spending and thereby the difficulty to access a public office in the United States (cf. ibid. 247.). It affirms that the presidential election is unequal with regard to a candidate’s fundraising and budget. Acts like the FECA may improve the process but the financial status still has a huge impact on electoral outcomes.

As already mentioned fundraising provides candidates with “sufficient amounts of money [that] allow candidates to advertise and promote issue positions, expand their campaign organizations, and develop other activities necessary for winning the nomination” (Damore 344). Without money key issues cannot be advertised, which leads to a lack of public understanding of what a candidate stands for. The voters’ awareness of what a candidate stands for is essential in order to win a nomination and an election. A candidate must needs to sure that the public is aware of his agenda, for what money is a necessity. The amount of money raised and not raised has a “direct effect upon who wins the nomination” (ibid.).



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Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn
united states presidential election financial resources impact campaigns results



Titel: The United States Presidential Election in 2016. How Did the Financial Resources Impact the Campaigns and the Results?