In politics, if you want to be a serious candidate you have to spend serious money. That doesn’t mean the highest-spending candidate always wins, but it does make it hard to win if you can’t spend competitively.
There are two ways to think about the relationship between winning and spending.
1) Candidates with money are able to raise their visibility and spread their messages, which helps them connect with voters.
2) Candidates who can connect with voters have an easier time raising money.
Both of these mechanisms are important, and at times they can even reinforce one another. In 2004, for instance, it was former Vermont governor Howard Dean’s ability to attract potential voters that gave him the credibility he needed to win over donors, which in turn allowed him to reach a larger audience and become, for a time, a serious Democratic presidential candidate.
At this point in the Massachusetts governor’s race, we have enough information about the candidates to start analyzing the connections between money and support.
In the chart above, each dot represents an individual candidate (you can hover your mouse over a dot to see more details). The closer a dot is to the top of the chart, the better the candidate’s favorability ratings. The further a dot is to the right, the more money that candidate has spent.
One thing this shows is that the three candidates with the highest favorability ratings (Martha Coakley, Charlie Baker, and Steven Grossman) are also the three candidates who have spent the most money.
Notice, though, that while Baker and Coakley have spent roughly the same amount of money, her favorability rating is far higher.
What is more, there are candidates who are seeing almost no payoff for their spending. Juliette Kayyem and Don Berwick have both spent over $500,000 this year, which is just about 25 percent less than Baker and Coakley. For now, though, that hasn’t translated into high favorability.
Money and votes may frequently go together, in other words, but there are no guarantees. In last year’s race for mayor, the connection was even less obvious. The highest-spending candidate, Dan Conley, finished fourth. And the third-place finisher, Charlotte Golar Richie, fared well despite being outspent 8 to 1.
As the governor’s race heats up, it’s important to keep an eye on the money. But also check to see where the relationship between money and support is breaking down. Consider Grossman’s position, for instance. Is he up against a kind of ceiling, like Kayyem and Berwick, where even substantial new spending may produce only small gains in favorability? Or can he still count on new money to translate into new support, and eventually new votes?