In its jihad against voluntary private funding of political parties (so it can then claim the taxpayer has to be forced to fund parties instead), Labour and others would have you believe that how much money a party spends correlates to how many votes they get. Indeed someone on my blog has proclaimed the US elections are always won by the candidate who raised the most money.
Bryce Edwards correctly blogs that money is no guarantee of political success. Of course it helps to varying degrees but it is far from decisive. Edwards quotes from an Economist article about US elections:
Money is not a guarantee of success nor is lack of it a guarantee of failure. Phil Gramm and Steve Forbes have both proved that truckloads of money do not necessarily translate into political momentum. And Bill Clinton proved that you can win the presidency without being the big money candidate. Howard Dean has gone one better and proved both that you can succeed without money and fail with it. He came from nowhere to dominate the money primary in 2004. But his $40m treasure chest did not prevent him from imploding during the Iowa primaries
Now I thought it would be interesting to look at what linkages there are between campaign spending and votes in NZ, for the four MMP elections we have had.
The expenditure comes from the Electoral Commission and includes both the broadcasting allocation and the direct party expenditure. So what do we see:
NZ First and Labour spent almost the same amount, yet Labour got twice the votes. ACT almost spent the same as National, yet got one sixth the number of votes. The Alliance spent half of what ACT did and got almost twice the votes.
Labour in 1996 had the best return in terms of votes for dollars.
National spent over 50% more than Labour in 1999, yet lost the election by around 10%. Labour got a vote for every $2.05 and National every $4.36.
In 2002 Labour spent more than National by around 25% yet got around twice as many votes. ACT spent more money than National, yet got one third the number of votes.
The Greens got the same votes as ACT for under half the spent. NZ First got 50% more votes than both Greens and ACT despite spending 60% and 25% respectively of what they did.
Finally we have 2005. Note Labour for two elections in a row have had a higher total spend than National. This time they spent around 30% or $950,000 more than National yet got only 2% more. ACT spent twice as much as NZ First for one quarter the votes. The Greens spent more than NZ First yet got less votes.Of the parties that made Parliament the spend per vote ranged from $3.40 to $34.00.
So while there is a case for overall spending limits, any nonsense about buying elections is just that – nonsense. The last four elections stand testament to this. The impact of money on elections is relatively insignificant compared to policies, party reputation, leadership and media treatment.
So why do parties spent money? Well obviously it has some impact. But more importantly it is the *only* way parties can communicate directly to the public on the issues they choose in the manner they decide. The more you restrict the ability of parties to do this, the more power you give to the media, and especially the press gallery, to control what the public hear.
The proposal by Labour to restrict what both political parties, and third parties, can say not just immediately prior to an election, but for up to an entire 11 months prior is a blight on free speech and is more about silencing criticism than any notion of fairness, or stopping elections being decided by money. The public have shown for all four MMP elections that they do not largely decide their votes based on campaign advertising – such advertising is merely one aspect of a campaign.