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Defying the Odds

Defying the Odds
New book about the 2016 election.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Party Differences in Campaign Spending

The Center for Responsive Politics has analyzed Republican and Democratic campaign spending between 2002 and 2012.
  • Democratic candidates outspent Republicans on personnel. 13.7 percent of the money spent by Democratic campaigns from 2002-2012 fell into our Wages & Salaries category, which also includes payroll taxes, health insurance, and any other costs associated with fielding a staff. Republicans spent 9.7 percent, or barely two thirds as much. Of course, more money spent on payroll doesn’t necessarily translate into a bigger staff -- it could reflect higher pay all around, a top-heavy payroll focused on senior staff, or a combination of the above.
  • Republicans spent more of their campaign budget on fundraising and consulting. The numbers are almost a mirror image of the salary figures: Republican campaigns used 14.2 percent of their money to raise more money, against an even 10 percent for Democrats. The bulk of the difference comes from the fundraising consulting subcategory, where Republicans outspent Democrats by a ratio of nearly 2-to-1 (5.8 percent to 3.1 percent). Republicans also had a substantial edge in the media consulting and campaign consulting subcategories, which -- along with the higher Democratic payrolls -- may indicate that Republicans outsource some campaign functions that Democrats keep in house.
  • Republican campaigns rely more heavily on direct mail, Democrats on new media. Perhaps reflecting party demographics, Democrats and Republicans favored different methods of reaching out to voters. Republican campaigns put 13.6 percent of their money into direct mail versus 9.4 percent for Democratic candidates; Democrats, meanwhile, spent almost three times as much on Web advertising as Republicans (2.6 percent to 0.9 percent). While that figure reflects all cycles since 2002, the gap in Web spending was actually even larger in the past cycle -- a fact that probably comes as no surprise to Republican consultants who rued the GOP’s lack of web presence in the aftermath of Mitt Romney’s loss. Even in 2012, however, traditional media reigned supreme: web advertising was barely 10 percent of Democratic candidates’ media budget.
  • Ultimately, the spending habits of Democratic and Republican campaigns were fairly similar. Both spent more than half of their funds on media, smaller chunks of money on fundraising, salaries, and administrative expenses, and the remainder on campaign and strategy expenses. The resemblance even extends to spending on big subcategories like polling and surveys (1.9 percent for Republicans, 2.2 percent for Democrats) and travel and lodging (4.5 percent for Republicans, 4.8 percent for Democrats). Whatever else may divide them, Democratic and Republican candidates appear to run their races using the same basic playbook.