This is the second post I’ve written in response to Jim Geraghty’s spot-on exposé of the “ The Right’s Grifter Problem” because it highlights a number of important issues. Of particular interest is this comparison of how efficiently different political organizations spend the money they raise from donors:
In that RightWingNews study, Club for Growth Action PAC had 88 percent actually went into independent expenditures and direct contributions. Republican Main Street Partnership had 78 percent, and American Crossroads was at 72 percent. That allegedly corrupt “establishment” is way more efficient at using donors’ money than all of these self-proclaimed grassroots conservative groups. Over on the liberal or Democratic side, ActBlue charges a 3.95 percent processing fee when passing along donations to campaigns.
And it’s a question I’ve often considered, “How can you objectively measure the performance of a campaign, a candidate, a firm, or an operative in politics?” There is, of course, the binary metric of win or lose, but not everything a winning campaign did was right and not everything a losing campaign did was wrong.
The efficiency of money metric Geraghty describes is also objective, but doesn’t address the effectiveness or impact of a given organization. For example, while 80% of the expenditures could go to political activity (rather than overhead), it doesn’t mean it was effective.
I think cost per vote may be the single best metric we have for objectively measuring the performance of a campaign or organization. How much did a campaign or organizations spend and how many votes did they garner? Beto O’Rourke’s 2018 senate campaign, by way of example, spent $79 million to earn 4 million votes. That works out to a $19.55 cost per vote. Ted Cruz’s campaign, by contrast, had a $10.62 cost per vote and won.
To put both of those figures in context, Kamala Harris’ successful 2016 California senate campaign had a $2.00 cost per vote and her opponent had a $0.88 cost per vote.
But even this metric falls short, because in the Texas Senate example, the incumbent had a significant advantage in terms of name ID that any challenger would have to spend vast resources to overcome. And it ignores the competitiveness of a race. The Texas Senate race was more competitive than the California Senate race.
Ultimately we’d need some sort of algorithm is needed that combines as many of the metrics. Of course no objective measurement is ever going to capture the essence of a campaign, which often have little to do with the candidates or their campaigns and are driven by myriad other factors like current events, the economy, and perception. But I do believe that activists, journalists, and donors would benefit from a measurement better suited to our modern, data-driven world.