There is a lot of talk about all of the Super Pac money that is flooding into the 2016 campaign. Indeed, it will be unprecedented and vast. And yes, money is a huge asset to have in any campaign, and yes, the candidate with the most money often misses.
But here is the thing that is being missed in most of the discussion about money in politics. Money only helps to a certain degree. And big money helps mostly when you can shut the competition out from communicating.
But…having a lot more money than your opponent doesn’t have much impact if, and this is a big if, your opponent(s) have enough money to communicate their messages to voters. In Senate and Gubernatorial races around the country for the last 20 years, you find instances where one candidate spends $10 million and the opponent spends $100,000, then, sure, the $10 million candidate wins 100% of those races. But there are numerous instances of campaigns that were $6 million versus $8 million, $10 million versus $14 Million, $20 million versus $30 million where the lesser spending candidate won the race.
Here is what I find so intriguing about the 2016 race. You can have a case where one GOP candidate has a billion dollars to spend in the primary, and 10 other candidates who have $50 million. But $50 million might be enough for any one candidate to communicate a winning message with enough primary voters to win a nomination. Furthermore, if, say, 11 candidates raise $50 million or more, there will be no reason for them to ever drop out of the primary process, this creating a contested nomination all the way to the convention.
Similarly, for the general election, it might be possible for one party nominee to outspend the other nominee by, say $3 billion to $1 billion, AND for that spending difference to make no difference. As long as the lower funded nominee can communicate his or her message to voters, the extra money for the other nominee is unlikely to make a difference.
Will all candidates still prefer to have more money than their opponents? Sure. But more money doesn’t always result in communication or electoral success. Once you reach a certain level of distribution, it is what your message is that counts the most.
TJ Walker is a communications adviser to political candidates around the world. You can reach him at 212.764.4955.