The Center’s eighth Issue Analysis examines the frequent claims of advocates of taxpayer-funded political campaigns that these systems improve government by increasing political participation and voter turnout. If the claims of these advocates are true, we would expect to find increased voter turnout in the two states that have had taxpayer-funded campaigns for all legislative races since 2000, Arizona and Maine.
Further, we would expect to see turnout in these states rising much faster than the nationwide turnout rate, because the overwhelming majority of campaigns outside of those in Arizona and Maine are privately funded. We assess these hypotheses by examining Arizona and Maine’s voter turnout rates before and after the implementation of so-called “clean elections” programs in 2000, and compare their experiences with the nationwide turnout rate for all general elections from 1990 through 2012.
While proponents of taxpayer-funded campaigns claim these systems would result in increased turnout, Arizona and Maine actually witnessed turnout rates grow markedly slower than the national rate after instituting taxpayer-financed campaigns. As the increase in voter turnout in both states was smaller than the increase in turnout nationally, it cannot be concluded that taxpayer-funded campaigns contributed to the increase. In fact, in years without a Presidential race, Maine’s average voter turnout has decreased since implementing taxpayer-funded campaigns. These non-Presidential election years provide better data to assess the impact of taxpayer-funded campaigns because state legislative races are a larger factor in turnout in those years.
Ultimately, our analysis concludes that there is no evidence from the experiences of Arizona and Maine to support the claim that taxpayer-funded campaigns increase voter turnout. Taken together, since implementing taxpayer-funded campaigns, Arizona and Maine have actually experienced an average decrease in turnout for non-Presidential elections while the national rate has risen. Similarly, in presidential elections, both Arizona and Maine have experienced a significantly slower rate of increase in voter turnout than the national average since 2000.