Briefing Paper No. 84

The Benefits of Campaign Spending

By John J. Coleman
September 4, 2003

Executive Summary

Critics of American politics often say that spending on electoral campaigns harms our democracy. They charge that the money goes for cynical, negative, and misleading advertisements that alienate the public from politics and elections.

Political scientists have collected and analyzed data on the connection between campaign spending and civic life. The data bear on several questions at issue in campaign finance debates: Does campaign spending reduce public trust? Does it reduce levels of citizen involvement in or attention to campaigns? Does it lower citizens’ knowledge of information relevant to their votes? Who benefits from campaign spending?

Studies indicate that campaign spending does not diminish trust, efficacy, and involvement, contrary to what critics charge. Moreover, spending increases public knowledge of the candidates, across essentially all groups in the population. Less spending on campaigns is not likely to increase public trust, involvement, or attention. Implicit or explicit spending limits reduce public knowledge during campaigns. Getting more money into campaigns should, on the whole, be beneficial to American democracy.

Download the Full Briefing Paper

John J. Coleman, professor in and associate chair of the Department of Political Science at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, is the author of Party Decline in America: Policy, Politics, and the Fiscal State.