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No guarantee in Bloomberg's huge spending

Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg
Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg

Michael Bloomberg’s self-funded race for the Democratic presidential nomination has upset some in the field, most notably Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who has accused Bloomberg of trying to buy the 2020 election. “I don’t believe that elections ought to be for sale,” Warren said in December.

It’s a familiar tactic — demonize the ultra-wealthy — but the hand-wringing may very well prove fruitless.

For one thing, the election landscape is littered with candidates at all levels of government who lost their races despite outspending their opponents, sometimes by large margins. Four years ago, Hillary Clinton outspent Donald Trump 3 to 1. Closer to home, in 2018 a five-term incumbent state House member spent nearly $30,000 on his race and lost to an opponent who spent zero.

Also, there is no guarantee that the piles of money Bloomberg is spending on advertising — the total was $248 million eight weeks into his campaign — will sway the electorate.

In a recent article in The Wall Street Journal, Hugo Mercier, a cognitive scientist at the Jean Nicod Institute in Paris, explored the issue of advertising’s impact in political campaigns.

Mercier noted a study published in 2004 by Alan Gerber of Yale University, who looked at nearly 100,000 households that received mailings favoring a congressional candidate and measured whether they were more likely to support the candidate. Those households “were 0.2% more likely to do so, which is statistically insignificant,” Nicod wrote.

He referenced a paper published last year by political scientists Joshua Kalla of Yale and David Broockman of Stanford. They “looked at all the studies that used randomized trials to test the effectiveness of political campaigns, adding nine of their own studies for good measure,” Nicod wrote.

Kalla and Broockman covered “the whole spectrum of campaign tools,” from mailings and phone calls to TV and online ads. The result? “The researchers’ conclusion was unambiguous: ‘The best estimate of the effects of campaign contact and advertising on Americans’ candidates choices in general elections is zero.’”

Nicod said research has shown campaigns can have a larger, though still modest, effect in primary elections, and that it’s an overstatement to say all the money spent on political campaigns is wasted — Gov. Kevin Stitt would no doubt agree. However, Nicod says, “if you’re worried that next year’s elections will be gamed by big data analytics or targeted advertising, you can relax …”

Bloomberg's campaign does appear to be gaining traction. He's polling at 7% nationally in the Real Clear Politics poll averages, placing him fifth. RCP placed his odds of winning the nomination at 12.2%.

Asked about a report that Bloomberg’s spending could reach $2 billion to defeat, or help defeat, President Trump, his campaign manager said Bloomberg is ready to “spend whatever it takes.” Even if doing so doesn't necessarily guarantee anything.

The Oklahoman Editorial Board

The Oklahoman Editorial Board consists of Kelly Dyer Fry, Publisher, Editor and Vice President of News; Owen Canfield, Opinion Editor; and Ray Carter, Chief Editorial Writer.. To submit a letter to the editor, go to this page or email... Read more ›