In the comments to this question, a small debate emerged about the influence of money on politics. Therefore my question:

  • Does campaign spending correlate with popular vote?

The answer might depend on the situation. I am interested in all kinds of elections that are considered "free and fair" according to independent observers: local, regional, national elections; elections of parties to parliaments or of individuals to offices; in North America, Europe, or elsewhere. There are probably many examples, so I'm mostly interested in systematic studies.

  • Note: I am aware that correlation does not imply causation. If the answer is positive, a subsequent question might be on causation. – gerrit Dec 17 '12 at 23:06

This is a loaded question, since you didn't define "campaign spending".

Spending on what? GOTV? Ads? Consultants?

  • GOTV:

    This usually doesn't affect who a person would vote for, but can obviously affect how many people get their lazy behinds to the polls. As such, this kind of spending clearly DOES affect popular vote.

  • Ads:

    This one is trickier. The answer is more complex, and I'll just let Nate Silver talk. The short of it, the asnwer is "yes, it affects, but the effects aren't as dramatic as usually stated and sometimes only work in specific narrow circumstances":

    1. Campaign ads matter more when the candidates are unfamiliar.

    2. Campaign ads matter more when a candidate can outspend the opponent.

      This simple fact sometimes gets lost because people fixate on the content of ads. But the volume of ads may matter more. Consider the 2000 presidential election. In the final two weeks of the campaign, residents in battleground state were twice as likely to see a Bush ad as a Gore ad. This cost Gore 4 points among uncommitted voters. The same thing happened in 2008, when Mr. Obama vastly outspent his Republican opponent, Senator John McCain. According to some research, in counties where Mr. Obama broadcast 2,000 more ads than Mr. McCain, he received about 1 percentage point more of the vote than John Kerry did in those same counties in 2004. (That a difference of 2,000 ads only appeared to earn Mr. Obama a single point is a testament to the limits of campaign advertising when most voters already have opinions about the candidates.)
      The collaboration between Rick Perry’s 2006 gubernatorial campaign team and a group of four political scientist “eggheads” has made a lot of news. Rarely do campaign professionals consent to randomizing campaign activity to understand its impact, and they should be commended for it. The conditions in this study suggested that campaign ads could matter: Perry’s ads ran by themselves, without competing ads from his opponents. And indeed, the eggheads found that they did matter:

      • the current week’s advertising raises Perry’s vote share by 4.73 percentage points per 1,000 GRPs.
    3. Campaign ads can matter, but not for long.

      that narrative above about Perry campain wasn't over:
      But equally if not more important is what happened next:

      • a week later, the effects of these ads … receded to −0.17 percentage points.
    4. Negative ads work, except when they don’t.

      ... All told, the research literature does not bear out the idea that negative campaigning is an effective means of winning votes, even though it tends to be more memorable and stimulate knowledge about the campaign.

    5. Campaign ads don’t really affect turnout.

    6. There is no secret sauce. Really

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  • Can you expand on GOTV and GRP? – gerrit Dec 17 '12 at 23:30
  • GOTV=Get Out The Vote. Standard political term. GRPs are most likely Gross Rating Points but you have to ask whoever wrote the research that Silver quoted to confirm. – user4012 Dec 17 '12 at 23:40

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