Money raised versus result achieved: The Senate ’08 sweepstakes

Congressional Elections, Politics, US Elections, US Politics
Excel sheet: US Senate candidates 2008 - results and efficiency of financial investment

Excel sheet: US Senate candidates 2008 - results and efficiency of financial investment

Chris Bowers last week linked through to a site I hadn’t seen yet, noting that The Green Papers has the final popular vote and fundraising totals for all 2008 U.S. House of Representatives election campaigns. They cover all candidates too, not just those of the main two parties.

Bowers does a good job analysing the numbers, and above all, brings the good news:

The final popular vote percentages were 53.08%-42.55%, giving Democrats a 10.53% victory. This is the largest popular vote percentage victory for either party in either a Presidential or Congressional election since 1984 (the next largest victory was Bill Clinton with 8.51% in 1996). It is the first double-digit victory for any party in a national election in 24 years. That, truly, is a historical butt-whooping.

Turns out the Green Papers site has the same data for the Senate races. Fascinating stuff for political geeks. What caught my attention in particular is how the money the candidates raised compared to the votes they got. In short: how did their investments pay off?

So what I’ve done, in turn, is add a couple of columns to the data table, to calculate how much the candidates raised for every single vote they received, and for every single percentage point they won. The file is up at Google Docs. (It would arguably have been better to use the data for how much money they actually spent, but that would involve making a similar effort to The Green Papers’ and gathering the data for 2-4 candidates in each of 50 races from the FEC site onself).

Time then, to declare some winners!

Most expensive Senate race of 2008

As you’ll have guessed, that was the Minnesota race between Al Franken and Norm Coleman. The two men raised $20.5 million and $18.0 million, respectively. That translates to $488 thousand and $430 thousand for each percentage point of the vote they ended up winning – which ranks Al and Norm as #1 and 2 when it comes to raising the most money per percentage point won.

Don’t forget that Minnesota’s a fairly populous state, though. When it comes to how much money they had to raise for each individual vote they won, they rank a more modest #10 and 11. Meaning that they had to raise “only” – ponder this for a second – $17 and $15 for every single vote they won.

Most money spent on each individual vote

You’d think that states with small populations would also cost less to campaign in. This is true – up to a point, apparently. The top of this list is filled with candidates from “small” states, who made Franken and Coleman look practically callous about the individual voter’s worth.

Your vote was worth most up in Alaska. Mark Begich raised a total of $4.4 million – which translates to a royal $29 for every single vote he received. His opponent, Ted “bring home the pork” Stevens, was right up there too and raised a stunning $26 per vote – in vain.

Max Baucus from Montana and the two contenders in the New Hampshire race, John Sununu and Jeanne Shaheen, also ended up raising at least $23 per vote.

Most costly loss

Obviously, that would be Norm Coleman – see above. But North Carolina’s Elizabeth Dole definitely deserves an honourable mention. When it comes to money invested into each percentage point of votes, she’s right up there at #3. Every percentage point she got cost some $390 thousand.

What makes her case notable is the disbalance in spending between her and her opponent. Other losing incumbents in expensive races (Coleman, Sununu) at least had the excuse that they were outspent by their rivals. Dole was anything but. The Democrat who defeated her, Kay Hagan, raised only about half the money Dole had at her disposal.

In other words, Dole raised 66% of the money in the race, but got just 44% of the vote. That makes Dole the least efficiently spending loser of the cycle. Next up in that category is Gordon Smith, who raised 59% of the money in his race but only got 46% of the vote.

Most expensive lost challenge

There were two challengers who didn’t make it despite throwing a shitload of money at their races. Bruce Lunsford (Kentucky) raised almost $11 million. That’s some $227 thousand for each percentage point he received, and $13 per vote. In his defence, however, he faced an incumbent who was spending more profligately still: Mitch McConnell spent $18 per vote. And Lunsford did come close, getting 47% of the vote.

Tom Allen‘s was arguably the bigger failure. Challenging Susan Collins in Maine, he raised a respectable $6 million to her $7.6 million, and yet he fell far short, receiving just 38.6% of the vote. Trounced by Collins by a 23-point margin, he ended up having spent $21 for each vote he received, against Collins’ $17.

Most lavish funding for safe incumbent

It’s surprising how much money was raised by incumbent candidates who faced no credible or particularly inspired challenger.

John Kerry, for example – who won his reelection easily with 64% of the vote – sits in the Top 5 of highest FEC receipts. He recorded no less than $16.1 million in receipts: $8 for each vote he would receive. He may be a special case though: almost 3/4 of the receipts came from “Transfers from Authorized Committees,” rather than from individual, party or committee “contributions” – maybe money left-over from his ’04 presidential campaign? He also only spent about 3/4 of the loot. That was still a handy $11.8 million though, or over 5 times more than his Republican opponent Jeff Beatty.

A better example is Tom Harkin from Iowa. He raised $6.4 million – overwhelmingly from individuals or PACs – and he spent almost $5 million of it. Which is some 84 times as much as his Republican opponent, Christopher Reed, spent. Harkin sailed home with 61% of the vote. Then there’s Jay Rockefeller IVth of West-Virginia. Although he faced a Republican opponent who hardly put money in the race and ended up vanquishing him by 64% to 36%, he outraised his opponent 42:1, and ended up raising $12 for every vote he received – and spending most all of it.

Compare also Tim Johnson of South Dakota, who ended up romping home 62% to 38%. It’s an understatement to say that Tim played it safe, raising $4.4 million in a state where just 380,000 people voted – that’s $19 for every vote he received. He was still outdone by prodigious fundraiser Max Baucus of Montana, who raised over $8 million, which in his sparsely populated state equates with a baffling $24 for every vote he received. And it was hardly like he needed it – he won by 73% to 27%.

Phoning it in – incumbent

Republican incumbent Thad Cochran of Mississippi never broke a sweat, it seems. He got 61% of the vote after spending just $3 per vote. In the end he had to raise just $36 thousand for each percentage point, which ranks him 54th out of 66 main party candidates.

Phoning it in – challenger

Some challengers were obviously just in the race as formality – and we’re not even talking third-party candidates here. Honorable mentions go to Jay Wolfe, the Republican opponent of Rockefeller IVth in West-Virginia, and above-mentioned Christopher Reed, Republican of Iowa. But the main prize goes to Democrat Bob Conley of South Carolina. He raised just $17 thousand, which must mean he pretty much had no campaign at all. In a racially divided state as South Carolina, however, and thanks to Obama’s coat tails, he got 42% of the vote nevertheless – meaning he raised just $405 per percentage point.

Most successful third party candidate

Definitely the most important one was Dean Barkley, the Independence Party candidate who threw the Minnesota Senate race in disarray. By taking over 15% of the vote, he forced Franken and Coleman far under 50%, and we know how that ended up.

Barkley’s was also a frugal campaign. He raised some $163 thousand, which translates into just over $10 thousand per percentage point – when Franken and Coleman had to raise over $400 thousand for each percentage point. Barkley spent just $0.37 per vote.

The runner-up however is Green Party candidate Rebekah Jean Kennedy of Arkansas. Since the Republicans passed on challenging Democratic incumbent Mark Pryor, she came second in the end results with 19% of the vote. Not bad for a candidate who raised a minute $14 thousand.

Most quixotic third party campaign

Out in Idaho, there’s a guy called Rex Floyd Rammell, a name straight from some trashy Wild West novel. Had an elk farm, apparently, all kinds of trouble – complaints about health and safety violations, stuff about hunting elk within a fenced-in area. He decided to run for Senator. Got 5% of the vote too, which isn’t bad at all for a third party candidate. Except that he really splurged to get that far, recording no less than $427 thousand in receipts – some $392 thousand of which he donated to his own campaign. All in all two and a half times as much money as Barkley had in Minnesota. Translated into $12 for every vote Rex ended up getting. And Republican incumbent Jim Risch sailed through with 58% of the vote anyhow. Not the most efficient use of your money.

(The Idaho Senate race, by the way, also featured a guy called Pro-Life – “formerly known as Marvin Richardson”. Life gets interesting out there.)

There should be honourable mentions for two independent candidates in Maine, though. Despite gathering thousands of signatures, both Herbert Hoffman and Laurie Dobson failed in their efforts to gain ballot status, so in the end they depended on write-in votes. According to the Green Papers site, there were just 620 of those, and the Hoffman campaign site breaks them down. Hoffman, who put in $26 thousand of his own money and raised another $17 thousand, got 568 votes. Dobson, who invested $14 thousand, almost entirely her own, got just 27. Which makes for a stunning $528 per vote.



  1. sozobe  •  Feb 3, 2009 @9:57 am

    Oooh, good stuff.

    Question — this seems to assume that more money –> more support. Couldn’t it be that more support –> more money? (That the people who supported a given candidate were happier to give money to that candidate… for example, at some point late in the game I donated to Franken even though I didn’t/ couldn’t vote for him.) (He has his problems but I REALLY don’t like Coleman.)

    It’s probably not either one by itself, but an interplay.

  2. nimh  •  Feb 3, 2009 @10:04 am


    I think the interesting bits are not so much those where money and support relate with each other directly (i.e. lots of support <-> lots of money or vice versa), but where the two part ways. E.g. candidates who spent lots of money but didn’t get anywhere near an equivalent result, or who made real inroads despite raising little money.

    Those are then things you can approach in absolute terms (who spent the most for his 50% + or – 1%), in terms relative to size of population (who spent the most per vote), or in terms relative to the rival candidate (e.g. Liz Dole raised the lion’s share of the vote but lost the race).

    There’s not much of a point, really – it’s mostly just fun factoids :-)

  3. sozobe  •  Feb 3, 2009 @10:08 am

    Gotcha. Fun for sure!

  4. Robert Gentel  •  Feb 3, 2009 @12:46 pm

    The Google Doc linked in the first thumbnail doesn’t seem to be publicly shared. It says I am not authorized to view it.

  5. Herbert J. Hoffman  •  Feb 3, 2009 @1:43 pm

    A brief comment on the results of my senate race in Maine. Though I had been certified as a ballot candidate by the Secretary of State, I was challenged by the hypocritical Democratic Party. They eventually succeeded in convincing the Supreme Court of Maine to render a decision which removed me from the ballot. It was hypocritical because the Dems argued that I had collected signatures in a manner which was not conforming — without noting that their candidates collected signatures in the same [or even less conforming] manner. Ultimately a standard that had not existed before was applied to my petitions. The full story can be found on my website — .

    In addition I have documented that many write-in votes were either not counted or reported to the Secretary of State — or both. The Secretary is concerned about this failure of ballot integrity and is considering how to approach it. There were 21 Declared write-in candidates in Maine this last election cycle and there is reason to believe that each candidate’s votes were significantly undercounted.

    Heretofore, Maine was regarded as a state with high election standards. I am waiting to see how the Secretary of State corrects some serious inadequacies.

  6. David Bright  •  Feb 3, 2009 @2:42 pm

    In Maine, independent Herbert Hoffman did collect enough signatures and did qualify for ballot access but then was removed from the ballot after the Maine Democratic Party challenged Hoffman’s signatures and convinced the Secretary of State to change the rules for collecting signatures. The rule change was imposed AFTER Hoffman had filed his papers (Can you say ex post facto?) and the Maine Supreme Court ruled Hoffman’s name should be removed from the ballot.
    The irony here is that had the Democratic Party been challenged under the same set of rules it demanded be imposed on Hoffman, Democrat Tom Allen would not have been on the ballot either.
    Also, the numbers for this analysis need a little revision. In many Maine towns, election officials did not bother to report write-in votes. Hoffman has a number of affidavits from people who properly wrote in his name but whose town reported no votes for him. The Secretary of State has been asked to review this problem.
    Beyond that, the Allen campaign benefited from several million dollars pumped into Maine by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. The money was used to run the Democrat’s get-out-the-vote efforts, which were heavily focused on the Allen-Collins race.
    So Hoffman’s cost per vote should be lower than reported, while Allen’s should be higher.

  7. nimh  •  Feb 3, 2009 @5:39 pm

    Yikes! OK, the Google Doc should be publicly accessible now.

    Saw just now that a couple of visitors were enterprising enough to request access, and I’ve given it, and now I’ve opened up the Doc for all. Had not checked the right access options.

    Hope there werent too many people who tried and failed..

  8. nimh  •  Feb 3, 2009 @5:41 pm

    Dvid Bright – thanks for the additional info! As for the DSCC money, that should have been included in the FEC filings though, no?

  9. Robert Gentel  •  Feb 3, 2009 @8:08 pm

    Love this kind of post. If you want to embed documents right into your post you might want to try

    I use Google Docs myself, and prefer it for everything except public sharing of documents where scribd’d embedding feature makes it much more useful.

  10. nimh  •  Feb 3, 2009 @9:21 pm

    Thanks for the tip Robert, will check it out!

  11. laurie dobson  •  Feb 4, 2009 @11:18 am

    Since in many of the larger Maine cities there were no breakdowns for write-in candidates, the Hoffman camp was in error in posting that they received the numbers they claim vs. the Dobson campaign numbers.
    This revisionist history makes for spectacular claims but errors are still errors, whether in judgment or in discretion.

  12. nimh  •  Feb 5, 2009 @6:59 pm

    Herbert commented himself too – his comment now appears above on 3 Feb. It just didn’t appear at the time because it was accidentally caught in our spam filter. I only came across it in there by coincidence just now – normally I dont really look in there, because we get many dozens of spam comments a day, so I was lucky to find it. Sorry for the delay, Herbert!

  13. engineer  •  Feb 6, 2009 @7:03 am

    So obviously the amount spent by your opponent runs up your own tab. I like the percentage of funds raised versus the percentage of votes received metric best. That seems to self correct for differences in media prices and competitiveness. I agree with the Dole/Hagan observation. Right up to the election, you couldn’t find a Hagan sign and TV ads were rare while Dole was all over the yards and airwaves.

  14. nimh  •  Feb 7, 2009 @7:31 pm

    Yeah – I tried to calculate another metric still that would also take the competition element out of the equation. Because obviously, like you say, most of the time candidates spend lots of money on every single vote, it’s simply because their opponent does too, so they have no choice. So a cleaner calculation of how effectively someone spends money would also filter that out.

    I did come up with a formula, but it turned out to have its own downside.. wait, I was emailing someone about that, lemme copy/paste:

    I grappled a bit with a dilemma related to the one you mention too. If a contender spends a large amount of money but his opponent does too, he will show up in the lists of top spenders per vote and per percentage point; but may well still have spent his money efficiently in terms of the outcome.

    For example when two candidates spend unprecedented, but comparable amounts of money on a race that ends in a near-deadlock, as with Franken vs. Coleman, it’s clear that it was a very expensive race, but they weren’t necessarily inefficient: they successfully kept up with each other after all.

    To distinguish that scenario from candidates who actually threw money at a race to proportionally little impact or need, I did create a kind of efficiency value: the percentage of the vote the candidate received divided by the percentage his fundraising made up of the total fundraising in that particular race. E.g. Begich got 48% of the vote and raised 53% of the total money raised by all candidates in his race – makes for an efficiency value of 0.9. A value like that should somewhat solve the problem you mention [..].

    That was too complicated [..] though, so I left it out. It also turned out to bring its own distortions. Incumbents may increase their spending more when they’re faced with a serious challenger, but even if they are not, their base level of spending turns out to remain pretty high. Hence that Top 5 of most lavish funding for safe incumbents.

    Many incumbents raise millions of dollars even when their opponent doesn’t pose a serious threat and raises a couple hundred thousand at most. So those safe incumbents (like Harkin, Johnson and Rockefeller) end up crowding the top of the list of least efficient raisers, when they’re not exactly failures – after all, they did get reelected in landslides. So I decided to skip over that calculation in the blog post, it would have been too confusing.