Want to Win an Election? Raise Money Outside Your District.

Fascinating findings by Kristen Coopie Allen today. She looked at money in state legislative contests (lots of cases!) and, among other things, found one thing that I find particularly interesting: money raised from outside the district is a bit more effective than money raised within the district.

Important caveats: I’ve read the blog post, not the dissertation, and so I can’t speak to how impressive I think the relationship is; also, I don’t really know how she explains it, or even what speculation she has, since it’s not in the post. One more thing: the effect is small. “A candidate with 100% of her donors residing in her district boundaries is only expected to earn 3 fewer points in the General Election than a candidate with no in-district contributors.” All that said…

Remember, since we’re pretty sure that at the end point a dollar spent equals a dollar spent regardless of source, what we’re really looking for is what fundraising tells us about the candidate, the candidacy, the campaign, or…well, if the relationship is real, it should be telling us something.

I can think of two, possibly related, explanations.

One is about the elusive notion of “quality” candidates. Perhaps the ability to raise money outside of a district is actually a marker of candidate quality, and goes with other good candidate skills.

Or: if it’s true that district money is more likely to be from family and friends, while out-of-district money is more likely to be party (network) money, then it would be interesting if it’s really just about the advantages of being plugged into the party network. We do know that self-funding dollars are less effective than donated dollars, which I’ve speculated could be about party.

I don’t really know how much of this is true in state legislative elections; I could imagine, for example, that out-of-district money might be just an indication that someone attended college out-of-state, which might mean that out-of-district money is more likely to be from friends. That’s less likely to be the case (I would think) in House or Senate elections, where personal connections are presumably just less important.

Anyway, there’s more than just the in-district finding, so click through and check it out.

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

Jonathan Bernstein

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.