DO POLITICAL CAMPAIGNS MAKE A DIFFERENCE? In this article in the Atlantic— which was written before the Presidential election (!)—Molly Ball raised the question whether political campaigns, and especially the enormous sums spent on political consultants, make a difference in the winning of elections. She posed the question based on the success of Donald Trump in winning the Republican nomination even though “Trump spent the primaries boasting about his lack of a super pac or traditional fund-raising operation. He didn’t employ a pollster or chief strategist or speechwriter. His campaign infrastructure was nonexistent; he spent only about $19 million on television ads.” We know now that Trump won the general election with the same approach.
Molly Ball points out that the academic literature so far has found little support for the effectiveness of some of the tools of political consultants: “targeting your strongest precincts for get-out-the-vote efforts tends to reach people who were going to vote for your candidate anyway, and can backfire by inadvertently turning out voters for your opponent”; “research has shown that television ads tend to have a small effect on how or whether people vote, and any effect they do have fades quickly”; and, somewhat surprisingly given its wide use, “the research literature does not bear out the idea that negative campaigning is an effective means of winning votes.”