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Does campaign spending work?

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  • Alan Gerber

Abstract

This article reports the results of several field experiments designed to measure campaign effects in partisan contests. The findings suggest incumbent campaigns failed to increase incumbent vote share, whereas the challenger campaign was effective. To understand these and other results, the incumbent's optimal spending strategy was analyzed theoretically. The analysis reveals that if incumbents maximize their probability of victory rather than vote share, campaigns by typical incumbents are expected to produce only minimal improvement in incumbent vote share. The analysis also explains how returns to campaign spending vary with the competitiveness of the election, how incumbent spending can improve the incumbent's probability of victory yet have only minimal effect on incumbent vote share, and why rational spending plans might decrease the sponsor's expected vote. This article demonstrates the wide scope of application for field experiments and provides an example of how experimental findings can serve as a catalyst for generating theories.

Suggested Citation

  • Alan Gerber, 2004. "Does campaign spending work?," Natural Field Experiments 00246, The Field Experiments Website.
  • Handle: RePEc:feb:natura:00246
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Bochel, J. M. & Denver, D. T., 1971. "Canvassing, Turnout and Party Support: An Experiment," British Journal of Political Science, Cambridge University Press, vol. 1(3), pages 257-269, July.
    2. Gerber, Alan S. & Green, Donald P., 2000. "The Effects of Canvassing, Telephone Calls, and Direct Mail on Voter Turnout: A Field Experiment," American Political Science Review, Cambridge University Press, vol. 94(3), pages 653-663, September.
    3. Gerber, Alan, 1998. "Estimating the Effect of Campaign Spending on Senate Election Outcomes Using Instrumental Variables," American Political Science Review, Cambridge University Press, vol. 92(2), pages 401-411, June.
    4. Levitt, Steven D, 1994. "Using Repeat Challengers to Estimate the Effect of Campaign Spending on Election Outcomes in the U.S. House," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 102(4), pages 777-798, August.
    5. Abramowitz, Alan I., 1988. "Explaining Senate Election Outcomes," American Political Science Review, Cambridge University Press, vol. 82(2), pages 385-403, June.
    6. Eldersveld, Samuel J., 1956. "Experimental Propaganda Techniques and Voting Behavior," American Political Science Review, Cambridge University Press, vol. 50(1), pages 154-165, March.
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    Cited by:

    1. Julia Cage & Yasmine Bekkouche, 2018. "The Price of a Vote: Evidence from France, 1993-2014," Sciences Po publications 12614, Sciences Po.
    2. Jeffrey Milyo, 2013. "Campaign Spending and Electoral Competition: Towards More Policy Relevant Research," Working Papers 1311, Department of Economics, University of Missouri.
    3. Thomas Sexton & Herbert Lewis, 2012. "Measuring efficiency in the presence of head-to-head competition," Journal of Productivity Analysis, Springer, vol. 38(2), pages 183-197, October.
    4. Yasmine Bekkouche & Julia Cage, 2019. "The Heterogeneous Price of a Vote: Evidence from France, 1993-2014," Sciences Po publications 2019-09, Sciences Po.
    5. John Maloney & Andrew Pickering, 2018. "The Economic Consequences of Political Donation Limits," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 85(339), pages 479-517, July.
    6. Bekkouche, Yasmine & Cagé, Julia & Dewitte, Edgard, 2020. "The Heterogeneous Price of a Vote: Evidence from Multiparty Systems, 1993-2017," CEPR Discussion Papers 15150, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    7. John Maloney & Andrew Pickering, 2013. "Political Competition, Political Donations, Economic Policy and Growth," Discussion Papers 13/21, Department of Economics, University of York.

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