When will the Left finally realise that money alone cannot win elections?
BY TOM HARWOOD
Last week, Mike Bloomberg dropped out of the Democratic Primary election. After spending half a billion dollars of his personal fortune, the former New York Mayor bowed out with one solitary win: American Samoa, a US territory with a population of just 55,000 people.
This came as a shock to those who are convinced voters are incredibly easy to buy or influence. It shouldn’t have.
Looking back over the last few years of political campaigns in the US, money has not been the magic bullet that so many people assume it is. Romney spent more than Obama, Hillary spent more than Trump. On this side of the Atlantic, Remain campaigners outspent the Leave campaigns by more than two to one.
It was the insurgent Tea Party movement that pushed out the big money establishment Republicans at the turn of the last decade, with comparatively little cash. Famously Tea Partyer and economics teacher Dave Brat unseated House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a primary upset in 2014. Cantor had outspent Brat by ten to one.
The micro-targeted Facebook ads, direct mail, and wall to wall television coverage that Bloomberg bought in the last few months are considered so dangerous in this country that there are constant calls for ever tighter constrictions imposed by the state on this kind of creative campaigning. Such restrictions on how people can spend their own money should not be adopted lightly – especially in the face of such mixed evidence.
The fact is that whenever one side loses in politics they search for reasons other than their own failings as to why they lost.
Democrats in 2016 blamed the Russians. Corbynites in 2019 blamed the Blairites. Bernie Sanders, despite outraising Joe Biden by $50 million, blamed the establishment for his Super Tuesday flop. Perhaps most brazenly of all, Remain campaigners try to blame spending in the 2016 referendum, despite themselves massively outspending Brexiteers.
Whilst recent electoral history has shown that campaigns in the round do matter, it’s wrong to single out money as a overwhelming influence. Funnily enough, in this United States Primary election (so far) those who have been losing are those who are the most flush with cash.
Similarly, despite anti-market voices in the media outspend and outnumber free market tax cutting voices by forty (yes, 40) to one, the Conservatives won the election on a tax cutting manifesto with strict fiscal rules. It is up to Rishi Sunak to live up to those rules in his budget this week.
Time and time again in political campaigns, narrative has beaten cash. Thankfully for Free Market Conservatives, the winning narrative of the last few years is one that rejects socialism, and taps into a deep seated yearning for people to take back control over their own lives. That’s the vision that winning campaigns have promised, and if they want to keep winning they will have to deliver it.
Tom Harwood is an award-winning journalist and commentator. Follow him on twitter: @tomhfh