How much should it cost to buy a vote? Not in the direct sense, but in terms of how campaign expenses incurred stack up against the number of votes received. Take a moment and make a mental guesstimate of a reasonable figure. $20? $200? For Jeb Bush and his Super-PAC, that figure was $2,800 in Iowa: $14.1 million divided by around 5,000 votes received. The runner-up in this ignominious statistic was Mike Huckabee, whose campaign spending amounted to slightly under $1,000 per vote received. The Huffington Post put together a fascinating comparison of the Republican field on this metric. To see how Jeb stacks up against the competition, click over there. My only real comment is “Wow.” Not really at the cost of our elections, though (Jeb’s astronomical cost per vote certainly doesn’t represent the actual net cost per vote in primary elections). More than anything what surprises me is the amount of funding that can be lined up behind such a seemingly ineffectual campaign.
Unfortunately, voting numbers aren’t tallied for the Iowan Democratic caucuses so we can’t work out a similar comparison between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. For what it’s worth, their total expenditures in Iowa were $9.4 million and $7.4 million, respectively. I’ll keep an eye out for cost per vote figures on the Democratic side of things in the near future, though, and post them here when they become available.
So does this mean that campaign contributions don’t have that large of an effect at the national level, or just for New Hampshire? Does it have a larger local election effect (say for city council, state rep, etc.)? I guess what I’m wondering is if “Citizens United” really had that large of an effect on national politics if presidential candidates are getting such a bad return? Is there a literature on this already?