Fat Steve's Blatherings

Friday, December 31, 2004

At last the Strib bashing: Part three, Campaign spending by Democrats and Republicans

      On page six of the first section, the Star-Tribune has an article about spending in the recent presidential campaign.  It's reprinted from the Washington Post, and is of much higher quality than the stuff the Strib or Times puts out (or at least, that's my experience).  Still, it has some defects worth noting.

      The story is by "Thomas B. Edsall and James V. Grimaldi," whom the Post identifies as "Washington Post Staff Writers."  When I saw Edsall's name, I thought is seemed familiar.  A little searching shows Edsall is the author or co-author of four books (Chain Reaction: The Impact Of Race, Rights, And Taxes On American Politics; The New Politics Of Inequality; Power And Money: Writing About Politics, 1971-1987; The Reagan Legacy), and all seem to be of the "Go, Democrats, Win Those Elections" genre.  Given that he is arguably a biased source, perhaps that fact should be mentioned somewhere?

      The first paragraph tells us that the Bush campaign outspent Kerry by $60 million, about 6% of each sides total spending.  Further analysis shows that the Bush total includes money spent by the Republican National Committee, starting in 2001.  The Republicans aimed to develop ways of "targeting" voters and preparing "an early and cost-effective advertising plan."  The Democratic National Committee was doing much the same, but the Republicans outspent them by $122 million dollars in "this period."

      Question: what is the period?  Specific dates would be nice.  Question: Should National Committee money be counted as part of the campaign spending?  If we remove it, the spending advantage shifts to Kerry.  And what spending are we counting for Kerry?  Money spent to win him the nomination, or just money for the general election?  Considering the 'anybody but Bush' sentiment displayed by so many Democrats last year, should we count money spent by Dean or Clark in the primary campaign as part of Kerry's expenditure?  I think it would be a real nice idea to look at these questions.

      The second paragraph of the story says that Kerry spending wasn't as effective as Bush spending.  If Kerry spent 6% less, but got only 2.6% less votes, that's a questionable conclusion.  Perhaps Kerry just needed to spend more?

      Later, the story says that the Republican presidential vote increased "nearly 10.5 million" votes, while the Democratic presidential increased "by about 6.8 million votes."  Go to CNN and we're told Bush got 60.6 million votes, Kerry 57.3 million.  So Bush had 50.1 million votes last time, and got a 21% increase in votes.  The Democrats had 50.5 million last time, and increased their vote 13%.  Take Kerry's 1.13 ratio of 2004 to 2000, multiply by 1.055, the ratio of the Bush to Kerry spending reported in the article, and you get an expected result of 1.20, or a 20% increase in Bush's vote.  This is not much different than the 21% actually obtained, so again we have evidence that both sides spent about as effectively.

      In the third paragraph:
. . . two relatively small expenditures by Bush and his allies stand out for their impact: the $546,000 ad buy by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and the Bush campaign's $3.25 million contract with the firm TargetPoint Consulting. The first portrayed Kerry as dishonest about his military record, permanently damaging him, while the second produced dramatic innovations in direct mail and voter technology, enabling the president to identify and target potential voters with pinpoint precision.

      I'd say that the paragraph implies that the 'Swifties' were closely coordinated with Bush.  I wouldn't care, except that when the various Democratic 527s are mentioned, we get seven statements about how they were operating independently of the Kerry campaign.  No such statements appear when Republican 527s are mentioned.  Bias?  And by the way, last I looked there were extensive allegations of Democratic violation of the "no coordination" rule.  In fact, I recall complaints before the Election Commission, which was said to be investigating.  I'd think there ought to have been some mention of these issues, at least -- and if the lead author wasn't a Democratic partisan, I think there would have been.  Or if Republicans had been accused of illegal coordination, and being investigated, I think there would have been some mention.

      Now we begin getting into the meat of the article.  The Bush team decided to deemphasize the 'undecided' vote, because they were only 7% of the electorate.  Also,
most voters looked at Bush in very black-and-white terms. They either loved and respected him, or they didn't like him.

      So the Bushies cut back spending on undecideds from the normal 75-90% to only 50%.  The other half would go into finding people already inclined to vote for Bush, and making sure they were registered and went to the polls.  I'd heard of this during the campaign, and here are some specific details.  Good reporting, Post, and good decision to reprint it, Star-Tribune.

      Kerry, says the story, didn't really
address the general election until after his Super Tuesday victory in March, eight months before the election. By that time, the campaign was hamstrung by legal restrictions on any cooperation between the campaign and the independent 527 organizations running ads and mobilizing voters on Kerry's behalf.

The 527 groups, named after a section of the tax code and allowed by law to accept unlimited contributions, provided invaluable help in registering and turning out voters. America Coming Together put about $135 million into what became the largest get-out-the-vote program in the nation's history. But the 527s, fueled with money from billionaires such as George Soros, proved ineffective in helping Kerry deliver a consistent and timely message.

Of the money spent on TV advertising for the Democratic nominee, Kerry's campaign controlled 62 percent, according to spending totals analyzed by the Post. The Bush campaign, on the other hand, controlled 83 percent of the money spent on its behalf.

      Hmm, was America Coming Together so effective in registering voters?  There were lots of stories about fraud and invalid registrations during the campaign, and ACT was featured in many of them.  ACT may have been a net waste of money.

      As for consistent messages, surely some mention of Kerry's inability to define and stick to a position is relevant here?

      And now, the worst part of the Strib version of the story: it stops with the quoted material above.  The Strib has printed only about one third of the Post's story.  Why?  No reason is given, and no notice of the fact that two-thirds of the piece has been omitted.  Not good, Star-Tribune.

      I'll critique the rest of the Post article in a separate post, as it no longer has anything to do with the Strib.



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