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Cost and duration of modern campaigns

Modern political campaigns are costly and lengthy, especially in the U.S. Costs have skyrocketed since 1986, even after adjusting for inflation. Campaign funds cover staff salaries, consultants, and advertising. Social media is becoming a key player in campaigns, offering cost-effective targeted messaging. The long U.S. election cycle also contributes to high costs.

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Video transcript

- [Instructor] What we're going to do in this video is talk about modern campaigns. In particular, we're gonna talk about the cost and the duration of modern campaigns, especially in the United States. And this graphic here, which comes from the Campaign Finance Institute, and it's based on data from the Federal Election Committee, it clearly shows how the cost of congressional campaigns have increased dramatically since 1986. If you look at nominal dollars for the House of Representatives, so this is just the actual dollar amount, you see it's almost grown by a factor of four or five. But even if you adjust it for inflation, the cost has doubled for your average House campaign. And you see a similar trend in the Senate campaigns, where, even adjusted for inflation, the cost of your average Senate campaign has increased by 50%. Now, this also does not capture all of the outside money, things like super PACs and whatever else. If you fast-forward to 2016, your average Senate campaign costs a little over 10 million dollars. But there's about that much money, approximately 10 million dollars, that also comes in from things like super PACs. And so it's totalling near 20 million dollars for a Senate campaign, on average. And so particularly competitive campaigns can be a lot more than even that. And if you wanna talk about really big money, you just have to look at presidential campaigns. So this right over here is the last presidential campaign, in 2016. And you can see that Hillary Clinton's candidate committee money was over half a billion dollars. She actually had a good bit more than Donald Trump. And she had a good bit more outside money. But the entire Hillary Clinton campaign had a nearly 800 million dollar budget. And if you combine Hillary Clinton plus Donald Trump, you have a total of 1.2 billion dollars for the 2016 campaign. In 1980, the total was 92 million. So, more than a 12-fold increase. And even if you were to adjust for inflation, which these numbers are not, but even if you did, you would see a several-fold increase in the cost of a campaign. So when you look at these types of numbers, there's a couple of interesting questions that come up. One is, what is the money for? Money for what? Well, there's many answers to that. One is, is that, especially in a presidential campaign, and to a lesser degree in a congressional campaign, the campaigns have to pay professional, full-time staffers. So campaign, campaign staff. You'll often have a lot of volunteers, but for example, Hillary Clinton, in 2016, had approximately 4200 people on payroll, where about 800 people were working directly for her campaign, another 400 with the Democratic National Committee, and roughly 3000 people with state Democratic parties in the battleground states. And beyond, on the staff, you also might have paid political consultants. Now, what do all these people do? Well, they come up with a campaign strategy. Some of them will do polling, to understand the sentiment in the larger population on specific issues or on the candidate. And they will do a lot of campaign advertising and marketing. Advertising. And so the staff will think about, well, what kind of advertising do we need to do? And then a large chunk of the money actually goes to the advertising itself. Advertising. Especially in mass media, if we're thinking about radio and television. Now, an interesting question is, given that in the 2016 campaign Hillary Clinton outspent Donald Trump by so much, how was he able to actually win that campaign? Well, there's several possible explanations to that. One is, is that Donald Trump was very effective at getting himself attention that he didn't have to spend money for. On top of that, a trend that has emerged really since the 2008 Obama campaign is the increasing use of social media in campaigns. Before social media became a major player, most of that energy really was in mass media advertising. But now with social media, you could cater a message to specific groups. You could focus your message. You could activate your base more. And so more and more, social media, which is currently a lot less expensive than, say, TV advertising, is becoming a bigger and bigger part of campaigns. Now, a last answer to the question of why so much money is that you have long campaigns in the United States. In some countries, the campaigns might be anywhere from two to six weeks. In the United States, the formal campaign, if you think about the first primaries, it's in February of an election year in a presidential cycle, and then the election is in November. So you're looking at roughly nine to 10 months from the first primary and caucuses to the election. But well before the first caucus, you're going to have the various candidates raising money and trying to get name recognition. And so the actual campaign and money raising, for a lot of these candidates, might be closer to two years. And so you can imagine, if you're spending two years with consultants, trying to do advertising, just so you have a showing in some of those first caucuses and primaries, well, that's going to cost you a lot of money. Now, it's for you to think about whether these are good or bad things. Many people would argue that having such a long election cycle doesn't allow a lot of focus on other things. Especially if someone's the incumbent, if they are campaigning the whole time, can they even govern? And then another argument against all of this money is it might put too much influence in the hands of people who can give money. I'll let you think about that.