Thursday, November 3, 2011

When Money Matters, Maybe

Bringing political science findings to the blogging world can often make me feel like a killjoy and a scold: I’m always saying that debates, or candidate foibles, or even money spent on elections just don't matter nearly as much as most pundits believe they do.

So I'm sort of happy to be able to speculate that the oodles of outside money being spent on Issue 2 in Ohio, on the ballot next week, seems to be the kind of thing that should matter. Greg Sargent has all the details; this is about anti-labor measures passed by the Governor John Kasich and the newly Republican legislature there.

The logic here is that money should matter more when partisan cues are not present (so in primaries and ballot measures), and presumably also in lower-profile elections, when there's little information available other than in TV ads, mailers, and other campaign-provided materials. It's also an off-year election, so presumably turnout should be very low (and therefore large percentages of the money spent will be entirely wasted on non-voters!); that could mean that voter intensity matter more than it would in a higher-turnout context, which again, I would think, would make campaign spending relatively more important.

However, I know a lot less about money in state and local elections than about money in federal elections, and a quick peek around didn't really support that intuition all that well -- from what I saw, money may not matter all that much in ballot measures after all. For what it's worth, the other thing I came across is that money seems to matter more on the "no" side, which in Ohio is the anti-union side (at least I think it is).

So perhaps even here, money won't matter that much -- and certainly less than some would have us believe.


  1. The "no side" problem (for analysis) in Ohio is real, just as it was for Prop 8 in CA. When you're talking about changing a policy that just changed, what's the status quo bias?

    However, I'd go off the polling. That poll that has it down 25 points? That's huge. The anti-group has over a majority. When in doubt, as voters often are when they see a bunch of ads that they think are duplicitous, voters tend to vote no/status quo.

    There are real questions here: the wording in that poll wasn't the exact ballot language, individual turnout is hard to predict for non-major election dates, and it's kinda hard to be specific on what the "status quo" is in this case. But, 25 points is HUGE, especially when the no side already has an absolute majority (and all the polls I see have No above 50% and Yes below 40%)

    From my own research, I can tell you that only 3 issues have come back from being down AT ALL in California in the last 16 years (when the correct ballot language wording is used in the poll). One of those, Prop 8, was simply missed by polling the whole campaign. That COULD be a valid comparison case here, with the whole "what does my vote mean?" problem. But no initiative ever came back from 25 points down. In every proposition polled on in the last 16 years in California, the mean increase in opposition over the course of a campaign is 18 points, and the opposition on election day was higher than initially polled in every case but 6. The biggest comeback was Prop 64, which initially polled 21/41 but won 59/41, but Prop 64 also had the highest proportion undecided of any proposition in the last 16 years. In other words, the initial poll measured non-opinions.

    Issue 2 is not as minor a deal as Prop 64 was. The undecideds are 11% in the latest Quinnipiac poll; Prop 64 had 38% undecided, and they mostly broke for the measure (some people changed their minds over the campaign in both directions, but very few).

    Issue 2 is dead.

  2. It's also an off-year election, so presumably turnout should be very low (and therefore large percentages of the money spent will be entirely wasted on non-voters!);

    Isn't the purpose of the money to cause someone to care enough about the issue so that they will cast a ballot? The money isn't "wasted" on non-voters, it is "invested" to create voters.

  3. Ohio also has early voting. About 30 percent of the Ohio voters voted early in 2008. So these "final days" blitzes - aimed at all Ohioans, not just likely voters - don't affect the entire voting population, either. My untrained brain says that fewer focused dollars would be better than more money just basically thrown out of a helicopter. I have no idea if the "no" people (yes, that is the pro-union vote) have that focus to their spending, but it seems like an important factor.

  4. Nice logic about money should matter more when partisan cues are not present, and presumably also in lower-profile elections...


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