Sustained Outrage

Money and elections

I didn’t post this until after yesterday’s primary was over, because I didn’t want anyone to think that I was trying to influence voters in any way. But the National Institute on Money in State Politics released a couple of interesting studies recently that examined the intersection of money, incumbency and politics in state legislative elections.

Incumbents who also had a fundraising advantage won 96 percent of the time in the 2007-08 election cycle, according to Peter Quist’s study, The Role of Money and Incumbency in 2007-2008 State Elections. In one-third of the races, incumbents ran unopposed.

Challengers who failed to raise more money than the officeholder won only 8 percent of the time. However, when they did manage to build a bigger war chest, challengers won 53 percent of the time, according to the study.

Moreover, the success rate for incumbents has been slowly creeping upward, from 89 percent in 2001-02 to 92 percent in 2003-04 and 2005-06 to 94 percent in 2007-08. The winning percentage for candidates with the money advantage has been relatively stable, though: 82 percent in 2001-02; 84 percent in 2003-04; 83 percent in 2005-06; and 80 percent in 2007-08.

The other study, Tyler Evilsizer’s Competitiveness in 2007-2008 State Legislative Races, notes that only 22 percent of candidates nationwide had a monetarily competitive race, i.e. where the candidates raised similar amounts of money.

As for West Virginia, roughly a quarter (26.5 percent) of the 117 legislative races in 2008 were monetarily competitive, while 44 percent weren’t competitive, and 29 percent were uncontested. You can see a national map here.

Public funding appeared to have a leveling effect, as five of the 10 most competitive states had a public funding option. Inexpensive races tended to be more competitive, while more expensive races tended to be less — not a direct correlation, but a trend. (During the last Legislative session, West Virginia did establish a pilot public-funding program for the 2012 statewide election for state Supreme Court Justice.)

The nationwide average of funds raised to win a legislative seat in 2008 was $116,035. In West Virginia, winners spent an average of $36,338, which is most comparable to Connecticut ($34,688) but pales in comparison to California ($810,582) and Florida ($220,897).

Additionally, three of the five states where businesses and special interest groups contributed 50 percent or more of the funds had very few (10 percent or less) financially competitive races, the study found. Conversely, three out of the five states with the least contributions from businesses and special interest groups had relatively high percentages of competative races.