How to Raise Money

A reader forwards this Washington Post piece and asks whether fiery rhetoric—e.g., Michele Bachmann’s saying that Obama has “anti-American views”—is an effective tactic for raising money.  Here’s how the Post’s reporters, Dan Eggen and T.W. Farnam, describe the phenomenon:

Here’s how it works: An up-and-coming politician blurts out something incendiary, provocative or otherwise controversial. The remark bounces around the blogs and talk shows and becomes a sensation.

Off the top of my head, I don’t know of any systematic studies of rhetoric and candidate fundraising.  Perhaps a reader can supply some in comments.

But it strikes me that we need to disentangle three features of a “money blurt.”  First is the provocative nature of the politician’s statement.  Second is the heated exchange between supporters and opponents of the politician that arises after the statement.  Third is the publicity that such an exchange creates.  The question is: which of these is most important?  Provocativeness alone is not enough.  What motivates donors—and what figures in many messages to those donors—is the idea that the politician is being unfairly attacked for their statement.  So a provocative statement that doesn’t elicit much criticism probably won’t bring in as much money.  And of course, #3 is also significant: if potential donors are not really aware of the statement or the backlash against it, then they won’t be motivated to donate.

It seems to me that the best way to stop a blurt from generating money is to ignore it.

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

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John Sides

John Sides is an associate professor of political science at George Washington University.