Following the Money: Campaign Donations and Spending in the 2012 Presidential Race

Posted by Andrea Levien on February 03, 2011

Our current method of electing the president is, to say it bluntly, unfair. Thanks to laws that allocate Electoral College votes on a winner-take-all basis, the great majority of Americans are ignored during the election for our country’s highest office. In 2012, all 253 of the campaign events with major party presidential and vice presidential candidates that took place after the Democratic National Convention were in just 12 states. From April 11 through Election Day on November 6, 99.6% of all advertising spending by the major party campaigns and their allies was in just 10 states. 

But in the 2012 election, every state was invested at least in one way – they all had residents who donated to and financed the two major party candidates’ campaigns. Despite this generosity, when it came down to devising their campaign strategies, the candidates did not reciprocate. While the candidates lavished attention on ten lucky battleground states, the remaining 40 states and the District of Columbia, which received a combined 0.4% of campaign advertising, were left as net exporters, donated hundreds of times more money than they received.

The ten biggest net exporters of campaign donations were California, Illinois, New York, Texas, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, Washington, Georgia, Connecticut. Their residents were responsible for 57.2% of all donations to the two campaigns. In return, they received a total of 0.1% of campaign advertising spending during the peak campaign season – that is, $1.70 of advertising spending in their state for every $1,000 they donated.

Meanwhile, the 10 net importers of campaign spending – with Florida, Ohio, and Virginia leading the way – were showered with almost the entirety of national attention during the peak campaign season. Though they received 99.6% of all advertising over that stretch, they were responsible for only 21.6% of all donations to the major party campaigns. Florida alone received 21% of advertising despite being responsible for only 6.1% of donations.

This discrepancy is a clear consequence of the Electoral College winner-take-all system in place in 48 states and the District of Columbia. If the election was decided based on a national popular vote, states could finance in-state campaigning and have activism that stayed within their communities. Instead, states like Massachusetts and Vermont campaign in neighboring New Hampshire, Delaware and New Jersey campaign in Pennsylvania and Maryland and D.C. campaign in Virginia. 

It should come as no surprise then that six of the top 10 net exporting states – Illinois, Maryland, Washington,  New Jersey, California, and Massachusetts – have passed the National Popular Vote (NPV) interstate compact into law. Under the NPV plan, once enough states sign on to represent a majority of the Electoral College (currently 270-538), they will award their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote instead of the winner of each individual state. Under this plaln, every vote, in ever corner of the nation, would be valued.

For a full listing of campaign donation vs. campaign spending, see the chart below (net importers of campaign money are bolded).

 

State

 Donations to the Obama and Romney Campaigns

Percent of National Donation

Total Ad Money Spent, (4/11-11-6)

Percent of Ad Money

California

 $137,804,736

14.70%

 $320

0.00%

Illinois

 $107,928,359

11.51%

 $270

0.00%

New York

 $76,743,682

8.19%

 $55,600

0.01%

Texas

 $64,044,620

6.83%

 $2,570

0.00%

Florida

 $56,863,167

6.06%

 $175,776,780

21.00%

Massachusetts

 $35,927,766

3.83%

 $0  

0.00%

Virginia

 $32,428,002

3.46%

 $127,000,000

15.17%

Pennsylvania

 $27,661,702

2.95%

 $31,000,000

3.70%

Maryland

 $25,579,933

2.73%

 $1,120

0.00%

New Jersey

 $24,062,220

2.57%

 $0  

0.00%

Washington

 $23,600,404

2.52%

 $0  

0.00%

Georgia

 $21,906,923

2.34%

 $6,020

0.00%

Colorado

 $20,695,557

2.21%

 $71,000,000

8.48%

Ohio

 $20,654,423

2.20%

 $148,000,000

17.68%

Michigan

 $19,917,206

2.12%

 $15,186,750

1.81%

North Carolina

 $18,658,894

1.99%

 $80,000,000

9.56%

Connecticut

 $18,644,901

1.99%

 $330

0.00%

Dist. of Columbia

 $16,670,938

1.78%

 $0  

0.00%

Arizona

 $14,631,204

1.56%

 $40,350

0.00%

Tennessee

 $11,967,542

1.28%

 $1,440

0.00%

Missouri

 $11,512,255

1.23%

 $127,560

0.02%

Utah

 $11,230,092

1.20%

 $0  

0.00%

Minnesota

 $11,112,922

1.19%

 $0

0.00%

Oregon

 $10,463,528

1.12%

 $460

0.00%

Wisconsin

 $10,011,235

1.07%

 $40,000,000

4.80%

Indiana

 $8,210,564

0.88%

 $300

0.00%

Louisiana

 $7,510,687

0.80%

 $3,990

0.00%

Oklahoma

 $7,129,393

0.76%

 $1,300

0.00%

Alabama

 $6,736,196

0.72%

 $80

0.00%

Nevada

 $6,717,552

0.72%

 $55,000,000

6.57%

South Carolina

 $6,686,788

0.71%

 $710

0.00%

Kentucky

 $6,079,673

0.65%

 $400

0.00%

New Mexico

 $5,770,738

0.62%

 $1,162,100

0.14%

Kansas

 $4,796,947

0.51%

 $0  

0.00%

Iowa

 $4,780,400

0.51%

 $52,194,330

6.26%

New Hampshire

 $4,389,577

0.47%

 $34,000,000

4.06%

Idaho

 $3,586,883

0.38%

 $290

0.00%

Mississippi

 $3,525,145

0.38%

 $0  

0.00%

Maine

 $3,452,126

0.37%

 $195,610

0.02%

Arkansas

 $3,296,533

0.35%

 $0  

0.00%

Hawaii

 $3,217,863

0.34%

 $0  

0.00%

Nebraska

 $3,128,691

0.33%

 $6,000,000  

0.72%

Vermont

 $2,732,572

0.29%

 $0  

0.00%

Montana

 $2,295,005

0.24%

 $0  

0.00%

Rhode Island

 $2,226,963

0.24%

 $0  

0.00%

Wyoming

 $2,225,204

0.24%

 $0  

0.00%

Alaska

 $2,153,869

0.23%

 $0  

0.00%

Delaware

 $2,141,203

0.23%

 $0  

0.00%

West Virginia

 $1,985,666

0.21%

 $100

0.00%

South Dakota

 $1,267,192

0.14%

 $1,810

0.00%

North Dakota

 $844,129

0.09%

 $346,490

0.04%

Total

 $937,609,770

 

 $837,107,080

 

*Donations statistics from the FEC

*Advertising statistics from Washington Post.

Methodology: We collected our data from a Washington Post graphic that tallied up the ad money by media market (as reported by Kantar Media/CMAG). Many of these media markets cross state boundaries. This means some voters saw advertising on their televisions, even if those ads were not targeted at them. The Washington Post designated the likely targets of many of these media markets. For example, they list Boston as “Boston, MA – NH” to reflect the fact that the advertising was likely targeting swing state voters in New Hampshire, not the safe blue state voters in Massachusetts.

In several cases, the mouse-over designations on the Washington Post graphic were obvious omissions of the actual target state, inconsistent with the grand totals on the web page, or otherwise obviously in error. We have therefore made the following corrections:

  • Burlington, VT (listed -NY): The Washington Post designated this ad spending as part of New York. Seeing as Vermont and New York were both safe blue states, it seems unlikely that the ad spending was targeting their voters. Instead, the ad spending was likely targeting voters in the swing state New Hampshire (which also borders VT), so we assigned the ad spending to New Hampshire.
  • Washington, DC (listed -MD): The Washington Post designated this spending as part of Maryland. Maryland was a safe blue state, whereas Virginia (which also borders DC) was a swing state. We assigned the ad spending in Washington, DC, to Virginia.
  • Tallahassee, FL (listed -GA): The Washington Post designated this spending as part of safe red state Georgia. The spending was more likely targeted at swing state Florida, so we assigned all of the ad spending in this media market to Florida.
  • Dothan, AL: Alabama was a safe red state, so we assigned the spending to the more likely target of the swing state Florida, which is on the border of Dothan, AL.
  • Portland, ME: The southern ME district was safely blue. The media market also crossed into New Hampshire, which was a swing state and the more likely target. We therefore assigned the ad spending for Portland, ME, to swing state New Hampshire.
  • Charlestown and Parkersburg, WV: West Virginia was a safe red state, whereas Ohio was a swing state. The Washington Post designated Wheeling, WV, as part of Ohio, but neglected to do the same for Charlestown and Parkersburg, WV. We assign the ad spending in all three media markets to Ohio.
  • Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN: Although Minnesota leaned slightly blue, both campaigns largely ignored the state in 2012. The media market crosses over into Wisconsin, a much closer swing state. Thus, we assign the ad spending to Wisconsin.
  • Mankato, MN: Similar to the case of Minneapolis-St. Paul, the ad spending in this media market was likely not targeting Minesota voters. Instead, it was more likely targeting voters in the swing state Wisconsin. We assign the ad spending in this media market to Wisconsin.

Updated March 3, 2015.

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