It is 2015, yet most of the discussion about elections focuses on 2016. In some ways this is not surprising given that 2015 is an “off-year” for elections. Even though it is an off-year, there still are elections happening this year and the presidential campaigns are drowning out these elections by starting earlier and earlier each cycle.
One of the reasons we see earlier starts is the industry that is growing up around elections. Campaigns need radio and television commercials and pieces of direct mail. They need to have a social media presence. They need polling and other data analysis. All of this costs money and that means that campaigns have to start raising money earlier. They hire staff and consultants to meet the fund raising goals.
I often tell folks that candidates do not need to have the most money, but that they do need to have enough money. How “enough” is defined changes based on how much money is being raised by all of the candidates. As candidates raise more money, it means that the amount that is enough to win an election goes up.
Quite a bit of the money being raised and spent these days is coming from entities other than the actual campaigns.
In 2012, outside spending on federal elections was $1.29 billion with super PACs making up $609 million of that. Nearly $33.5 million of it was spent in Indiana on the U.S. Senate race. Only the race for president, and the U.S. Senate seats in Virginia, Wisconsin, and Ohio saw more outside spending than Indiana.
In the midterm elections of 2014, there were 1,767 groups registered to make outside expenditures and they spent $797 billion.
There is no reason to think that outside spending will decrease in 2016. Indiana may not make the top five in outside spending again, but it should see quite a bit of it. The open seat for the U.S. Senate is likely to gain national attention and it was a race for a Senate seat that drove the outside spending in 2012. The gubernatorial race also could generate some interest and outside spending. There might even be a few seats in the Indiana General Assembly that see some outside spending.
I have ongoing arguments with a colleague about our areas of study (international relations for him and state and local politics for me). While we disagree on much, there is an agreement on at least one fact. Local officials make decisions that we see and feel on a daily basis. They make decisions about garbage collection, public safety, and potholes. These issues may not be as weighty as the national and international issues that presidential candidates discuss, but that does not negate their importance and it certainly is not a reason to look beyond the elections of 2015. In fact, if we pay more attention to the elections this year, perhaps we can hold off the 2016 elections…at least until November 4th.
Andrew Downs is Director of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics at IPFW.
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