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How much is too much to spend on an election?

According to a report from The New York Times , the 2012 elections for president, Congress, and state and local offices, saw a total of about $5.8 billion spent. The money raised went to the campaigns, including advertising, fundraising, travel, and staff. Many people worry that politicians spend too much time raising money and end up entangled with special interest groups that make major donations. Critics would prefer a system that restricts what candidates can spend, perhaps in exchange for limited public campaign financing or free television advertising time.

How much spending on campaigns is too much? Five billion dollars will buy a lot of potato chips, but in the U.S. economy, which exceeded $16 trillion in 2012, the $5.8 billion spent on political campaigns was about 1/25 of 1% of the overall economy. Here is another way to think about campaign spending. Total government spending programs in 2009, including federal and state governments, was about $5.1 trillion, so the cost of choosing the people who would determine how this money would be spent was about 1/10 of 1% of that. In the context of the enormous U.S. economy, $5.8 billion is not as much money as it sounds. U.S. consumers spend about $2 billion per year on toothpaste and $7 billion on hair care products. In 2008, Proctor and Gamble spent $4.8 billion on advertising. It may not be sensible to believe the United States is going to decide its presidential elections for less than we spend on toothpaste or than Proctor and Gamble spends on advertisements.

Whatever we believe about whether candidates and their parties spend too much or too little on elections, the U.S. Supreme Court has placed limits on how government can limit campaign spending. In a 1976 decision, Buckley v. Valeo , the Supreme Court emphasized that the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution specifies freedom of speech. The federal government and states can offer candidates a voluntary deal in which government makes some public financing available to candidates, but only if the candidates agree to abide by certain spending limits. Of course, candidates can also voluntarily agree to set certain spending limits if they wish. But government cannot forbid people or organizations to raise and spend money above these limits if they choose.

In 2002, Congress passed and President George W. Bush signed into law the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) . The relatively noncontroversial portions of the act strengthen the rules requiring full and speedy disclosure of who contributes money to campaigns. However, some controversial portions of the Act limit the ability of individuals and groups to make certain kinds of political donations and they ban certain kinds of advertising in the months leading up to an election. These bans were called into question after the release of two films: Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 and Citizens United’s Hillary: The Movie . At question was whether each film sought to discredit political candidates for office too close to an election, in violation of the BCRA. Moore’s film was found by lower courts not to violate the Act, while Citizens United’s was. The fight reached the Supreme Court, as Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission , saying that the First Amendment protects the rights of corporations as well as individuals to donate to political campaigns. The Court ruled, in a 5–4 decision, that the spending limits were unconstitutional. This controversial decision, which essentially allows unlimited contributions by corporations to political action committees, overruled several previous decisions and will likely be revisited in the future, due to the strength of the public reaction. For now, it has resulted in a sharp increase in election spending.

While many U.S. adults do not bother to vote in presidential elections, more than half do. What motivates them? Research on voting behavior has shown that people who are more settled or more “connected” to society tend to vote more frequently. According to the Washington Post , more married people vote than single people. Those with a job vote more than the unemployed. Those who have lived longer in a neighborhood are more likely to vote than newcomers. Those who report that they know their neighbors and talk to them are more likely to vote than socially isolated people. Those with a higher income and level of education are also more likely to vote. These factors suggest that politicians are likely to focus more on the interests of married, employed, well-educated people with at least a middle-class level of income than on the interests of other groups. For example, those who vote may tend to be more supportive of financial assistance for the two-year and four-year colleges they expect their children to attend than they are of medical care or public school education aimed at families of the poor and unemployed.

Visit this website to see a breakdown of how different groups voted in 2012.

A number of proposals have been offered to encourage greater voter turnout: making it easier to register to vote, keeping the polls open for more hours, or even moving Election Day to the weekend, when fewer people need to worry about jobs or school commitments. However, the changes that have been made do not seem to have caused a long-term upward trend in the number of people voting. After all, casting an informed vote will always impose some costs of time and energy. It is not clear how to strengthen people’s feeling of connectedness to society in a way that will lead to a substantial increase in voter turnout. Without greater voter turnout, however, politicians elected by the votes of 60% or fewer of the population may not enact economic policy in the best interests of 100% of the population. Meanwhile, countering a long trend toward making voting easier, many states have recently erected new voting laws that critics say are actually barriers to voting. States have passed laws reducing early voting, restricting groups who are organizing get-out-the-vote efforts, enacted strict photo ID laws, as well as laws that require showing proof of U.S. citizenship. The ACLU argues that while these laws profess to prevent voter fraud, they are in effect making it harder for individuals to cast their vote.

Key concepts and summary

The theory of rational ignorance says voters will recognize that their single vote is extremely unlikely to influence the outcome of an election. As a consequence, they will choose to remain uninformed about issues and not vote. This theory helps explain why voter turnout is so low in the United States.

References

Olson, Mancur. The Logic of Collective Action: Public Goods and the Theory of Groups , (Boston: Harvard University Press, 1965).

Downs, Anthony. An Economic Theory of Democracy . New York: Harper, 1957.

Skinner, B.F. Walden Two . Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 1948.

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). "Voting Rights." https://www.aclu.org/voting-rights.

The New York Times. “The 2012 Money Race: Compare the Candidates.” http://elections.nytimes.com/2012/campaign-finance.

The Washington Post. “Exit Polls 2012: Where Americans Stood this Election.” Last modified November 7, 2012. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/special/politics/2012-exit-polls/national-breakdown/.

Cornell University Law School: Legal Information Institute. “Citizens United v. Federal Election Committee (No. 08-205).” Last modified January 21, 2010. http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/08-205.ZS.html.

U.S. Department of Commerce: United States Census Bureau. “Voting and Registration: Historical Time Series Tables; Table A-9: Reported Voting Rates in Presidential Election Years, by Selected Characteristics: November 1964 to 2012.” http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/socdemo/voting/publications/historical/index.html

Questions & Answers

opportunity cost means the lose of other alternatives when the alternative is chosen
saad Reply
is the benefits that you loose by not selecting a certain alternative.
EDWINY
individual wants maybe unlimited, but means to satisfy them are limited there one has to forgo some alternative in order to acquire other alternative and it must according priority, that is when scale of preference set in for individuals to make choice
Rhaiymornd
hello everyone
Aliyu
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Shoaib
demand is the amount of goods and services that consumer is willing and able to purchase at a particular prices over given period of time
Rhaiymornd Reply
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Abraham
what's demand?
labi Reply
What customers want the most...
Abraham
not only what customers wants, want is just mere desire but demand is backed by purchasing power, ability and willingness
Rhaiymornd
thanks
Abraham
What's opportunity cost?
Abraham
what are the differences between demand and supply
Zakariyah Reply
who is called lender of the last resort
Divyanshu Reply
Hi
Linda
hlw
Karishma
Central bank
Majeed
hy
Karishma
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Karishma
the central bank
Sessay
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Majeed
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neha
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Doctor
yh
Abigail
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Sessay
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Doctor
split the price effect into income effect and substitution effect
Karishma
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Abigail
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Godwin
hi
Hey, I am new here. Hope, discussion on Economics will clear our concepts more.
yasir
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Abigail
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Karishma
how to consumer equlibrium through ic
Karishma
consumer equilibrium demand equals supply
Kenneth
the consumer is in equilibrium when the indifference curve is tangential to the budget line. or when the BL and IC intersect
Sessay
reasons indifference curve slopes downwards?
Kenneth
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Doctor
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EDWINY
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EDWINY
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Ebong
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Ebong
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ian
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nelson
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Ayegba
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Amara
, Dennis Weissman Associates, LLC Laboratory Economics is the monthly business newsletter that gets behind the headlines and press releases.
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Adamsvictor Reply
economic systems
gracious
hello
Antonio
market
aba
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Manu
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Mohamed
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Anwesh
but these experiments are not completely controlled
Anwesh
Hello
Comfort
hey
suraj
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Milton
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Bertilla
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Sessay
hello. if Mr.Patrick's income is #900.00 while that of Mr.Shodawe is #1300.00 if Mr.Patrick and Shodowe pay #90.00 and #130.00 as taxes,the tax system is?
Benjamin
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Benjamin
regressive tax system
shaikh
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Benjamin
Isn't this called proportional tax rate because the rate stays the same - 10%? Tell me if I'm wrong
Ioan
Supply is perfectly elastic and demand increases.
kishore Reply
whose there
Waseem
show the demand curve
Hameed Reply
it slopes downward from left to right
Ama
how resources are allocated in a free economy
Charlotte Reply
explain how discriminating Monopoly increase profits
Charlotte
factors responsible for the emergence of monopoly situation
adelakun Reply
total output produced by a country over a given period of time .... can someone give me the term plz
TMM Reply
GDP
Anjorin
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Anjorin
gross domestic products
janet
GDP
Bertilla
GDP
Prof
GDP
Bertilla
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GDp
Mohamed
gdp
agboola
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Prince
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Prince
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Prince
law of demand and supply
Zakariyah
All thing been equal
Temple
no i think recession is pertaining to GNP
owolabi
gross national production
Abraham
what is embago
Peter
all things being equal
Raphael
embargo restriction on trade by government of a country
owolabi
an official ban on trade or other commercial activity with a particular country.
Ayegba
Embargo.....an order by a common carrier or publ regulatory agency prohibiting or restric freight transportation
Ayegba
it's a complete band on important n export
Bertilla
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Andrew
Hi. C+I+G+x-m
Shoaib
Gdp aggregate demand are bit same
Shoaib
Dpd = c+i+g+(x-m) is aggregate demand
Shoaib
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Shoaib
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Saboor
Topic ended waiting for next topic
Shoaib
What is Terms of Trade (TOT)?
DADA
At what point a Terms of Trade can be favorable?
DADA
What is long run supply curve of a industry
Rashika Reply
enlightened
Ernest
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Ernest Reply
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Ernest
A mixed economy is the best type of an economy.Discuss
Tawanda Reply
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Anjorin
?
Andres
agreed
Ernest
Explain more about the Macroeconomics
Lizzy Reply
what is macroeconomic
Ekye
macro economics has to do with the of study economics at national level i.e the study of national economy as a whole. While micro is concerned with the study at individual, group or company level.
Andres
Andres explain
Ernest
ok
Ernest
what topic is capitalist economy based on
ADIBE
pls am not really understanding
Bertilla
pls can u explain more
Bertilla

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Source:  OpenStax, Principles of economics. OpenStax CNX. Sep 19, 2014 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11613/1.11
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