Does Campaign Spending Matter? Ask Mitt Romney

In Freakonomics, we argued that campaign spending matters a lot less than people think. Mitt Romney‘s presidential campaign would seem to offer a fresh bit of evidence in favor of our theory.

Viewed in this light, Hillary Clinton‘s decision to loan her campaign $5 million looks like the wrong move. It isn’t the money that is boosting Obama. Rather, it’s the fact that he is a strong candidate that is attracting both the money and the votes.

Clinton also fired her campaign manager last week. At the moment, there’s no academic evidence on whether or not this action helps a candidate. I wonder if our sabermetric friends have done any research on whether firing a manager mid-season helps a baseball team? It is a difficult question to answer well, because the only teams that will fire their managers are those that have been performing worse than expected; as such, they might improve simply because of mean reversion.

Josh R

Some things are not about money.

Romney was not a viable candidate because he was adamantly pro-choice a few years ago, and became pro-life in order to be run for president. Those who are passionate about this issue didn't buy his conversion.

Money cannot overcome something like that unless there is nobody who is less palatable competing.

Hillary may have a similar issue with the liberals because of her support for the war.


I think it comes down to this:

Money alone can't win an election for you.

Having no money will CERTAINLY lose an election for you.

voila - problem solved


I think the issue looks at 2 different customer bases: 1) people with money, an interest in politics, and those who get gratification in being part of the process and 2) the general primary voters who do not have money but are interested enough to participate in an additional voting cycle.

The key is using the resources of group 1 to tap into the motivations of group 2. Primary history is littered with politicos who are very successful connecting with group 1 and terrible at connecting with group 2.


na #29, we just want to highlight how great our team did!


#29 "clearly implies"



Re Roger (#6). A child born overseas to a natural-born citizen is considered natural-born. State Department told me so when I registered my son at the U.S. embassy as a natural-born American.


To #39: Romney showed up in the presidential primary as a completely different person than the Romney elected as the governor of Massachusetts. It was more than just abortion; is was everything, every position, every time. Romney was Mr. Flexible, which works well when you're a management consultant--but smacks of artifice and insincerity in politics.


Re No. 25, Kanye West may be responsible for the quote, but it is a rip-off of a quote by the Reverend Ike, a Harlem-based radio preacher: "The love of money is no sin. It is the lack of money that is a sin."

- Posted by steve kindel

I think Kanye's line is actually a re-write of Larry Holmes' line:

"You ever been black? I was black once, when I was poor."

You can find it in Joyce Carol Oates' "On Boxing".


The former mayor of NYC is a better example. He has spent 50 million and only got 1 delegate.


Thorstein is wrong. Huckabee has no appeal outside the south. This chart demonstrates it.
It's very telling about Huck's overall weakness:

Romney appealed to a broad spectrum of Republicans across many regions while Huckabee did not. If money was all it took to win states and delegates, then Steve Forbes would have done equally as well in 2000 as Romney did this year. But, as we know, Forbes didn't even come close to having the success that Romney has had. Thorstein and others just want to minimize the appeal Romney had and downplay the connection he made with voters throughout the country.

Hopefully, McCain will have the BRAINS to choose Mitt Romney as VP and will inherit millions of ready, willing and able supporters willing to fight for the WH.

david curran

There is some research on when soccer managers are fired and what the outcome of firing them is

chris muscolino

Here is a table I found on in season baseball managerial changes and the results..
Keep in mind Phil Garner took over in 04 for the Houston Astros and had a great run that ended in a NLCS loss to the Cards,Jack Mckeon has been noted and in 1978 Bob Lemon took over for Billy Martin and took the Yankees to the title by leading the Yanks to a pennant in the Bucky Dent 1 game playoff over the RedSox and a World Series victory over the Dodgers.

Decade Mgr1 W Mgr1 L PCT Mgr>1 W Mgr>1 L PCT Change
1870s 331 358 .480 561 616 .477 -.004
1880s 809 1138 .416 1854 2567 .419 .004
1890s 566 859 .397 1903 2677 .416 .018
1900s 463 607 .433 1058 1469 .419 -.014
1910s 655 821 .444 1277 1533 .454 .011
1920s 537 565 .487 1132 1166 .493 .005
1930s 891 1162 .434 1570 1939 .447 .013
1940s 711 960 .425 1477 1752 .457 .032
1950s 819 1031 .443 1795 2052 .467 .024
1960s 1823 2105 .464 3466 4066 .460 -.004
1970s 2127 2464 .463 3752 4283 .467 .004
1980s 2079 2651 .440 4075 4813 .458 .019
1990s 1239 1496 .453 2595 2984 .465 .012
2000s 641 835 .434 1552 2009 .436 .002
Overall 13691 17052 .445 28067 33926 .453 .007

Historically, changing a team's manager resulted in just a 7-point improvement. Over the course of a full 162-game schedule, that means translates into less than one win.


Jeffrey Kluger

Firing a campaign manager--like firing a baseball manager--matters not a whit. Unless of course it does. In both cases, the world in which the new manager will operate is unchanged from the one in which the old one did. The campaign manager has the same flawed candidate. The baseball manager has the same flawed team. Both face the same competition--likely energized now as a result of chaos in the team that just underwent the shake-up. But the change can be significant if it causes a psychological shift. Dolorous teams can be slapped awake by a new boss who makes it clear that heads will roll and the system will change. Sleepwalking candidates can be awakened by a new campaign manager who is not cowed by working for a person who could be president and makes it clear that a stronger performance and a greater energy level is expected. Michael Dukakis, Al Gore and John Kerry may have been hopelessly charmless candidates (though Gore, arguably, could have been an extraordinary president) but all were energized when they fired their campaign managers. That none of them ultimately became president may have said more about them and the electorate to which they were trying to appeal. But changing skippers between the primaries and the general was nonetheless the right thing to do.



Maybe the way to see the effect of firing a manager mid-season would be to control for the amount the media/fan base clamors for the firing? Once that variable is controlled for, we see if firing/not firing has a relationship to the future winning percentage? In any case, that's surely better than spouting anecdotal evidence and then arguing about it.

Gene Silvers

Romney's problem was that his campaign's spending went so high that, given the fact that so many voters thought he wasn't being honest about his true political ideology, so many voters thought he was trying to buy his was into (i.e., spend his way into) the presidency.

That doesn't prove that we don't desperately need campaign spending limits. It only proves that you have to be at least somewhat discreet when trying to buy your way into (i.e., spend you way into) political office.


People write about how Huckabee was able to get so far without *any money,* but exactly where did it get him? And that McCain had no money - as if the $40,000,000 he spent was *no* money.

"Politics is like war. It takes three things to win.....
The first is money and the second is money and the third is money."

[Peter] Maas ... recalled that as a writer for the Saturday Evening Post he interviewed a political operative in one dirt-poor town in West Virginia who told him his county was for Humphrey. "A few weeks later, I interviewed him again, and he said the county was for Jack. I asked what had changed, and he said with a smile, 'My workers each got $20, and I got $150. We're for Kennedy."

Karl Young

uh, I thought the statistical expression was regression to the mean; seems to me that Clinton's campaign probably wasn't doing poorly enough to test that theory.

independent voter

Let's face the truth: Without Romney's excessive spending, he would not have become a near front-runner for the republican nomination. The only reason Romney gave McCain a legitimate run is because Romney bought his way into the race. So money does matter---but it doesn't win you the nomination. In other words, Romney's money got him to the top quickly (with the millions he spent on TV advertising, etc.), but at the end of the day, voters did not trust someone who they knew was trying to buy an election, particularly given the convenient timing of his significant policy flip-flops (e.g., abortion).

William Conlow

Unfortunately this post, much like the associated chapter in Freakonomics is inherently flawed.

Mitt Romney raised considerably more money than his opponents. If a strong candidate attracts money and votes, how does Mr. Levitt account for the fact that Romney attracting much more money than votes? Or the fact that a guy like Huckabee attracts votes and not money?

This is not fresh evidence of any theory, unless that theory can properly explain why some politicians attract donations over votes (and visa versa).

Clinton fired her campaign manager to distract voters from Obama's February victories. A baseball team that fires its manager is not (as) worried about PR issues.


And by the way to #6, Panama was never leased, ever. The Panama Canal Zone was leased and pretty much it was a country inside a country with its own government and laws.
As an interesting note, if McCain wins, Panama can "claim" at least two presidents of foreign countries (Maduro in Honduras very recently is the other). Slowly but surely taking over the world!