In this article, Jay Goodliffe challenges conventional wisdom on the effect of war chests in U.S. House elections. As many “reformers” suggest that war chests daunt challengers and effectively prevent them from choosing to enter a race against an incumbent, Goodliffe attempts to shed light on this misconception by proving that previous studies fail to take important variables into account when studying the effectiveness of war chests. Through this bivariate analysis, Goodliffe finds that “incumbent spending and incumbent wealth have negligible effects on electoral outcomes.” Contrary to the beliefs of “reformers,” Goodliffe explains that incumbents raise funds in preparation for a strong challenger and not to deter a strong challenger.
This chapter first appeared in Congressional Primaries and the Politics of Representation, edited by Peter F. Galderisi, Michael Lyons, and Marni Ezra (Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2001), pp. 62-76. In this chapter, “Campaign Finance in U.S. House Primary and General Elections,” Jay Goodliffe and David B. Magleby examine how money and electoral competitiveness influence the results of U.S. House primary and general elections.
The authors question the usefulness of primaries in keeping incumbents accountable and creating competitive elections. According to the chapter, close primaries involving incumbents usually seem to result from a combination of two circumstances: ”(1) the incumbent appeared to be vulnerable; and (2) a challenger was able to provide significant funding for his or her own campaign.” They note that primaries add significant costs to a campaign and “create a general disincentive for candidates to run.” If anything, primary elections where an out-party candidate challenges the incumbent result in the reduced likeliness of out-party candidates, decreasing the incentive for incumbents to remain accountable.
Do Campaign Donations Alter How a Politician Votes? Or, Do Donors Support Candidtes Who Value the Same Things that they Do?
Despite all the work on how campaign donations influence a politician’s behavior, the nagging question of whether contributions alter how a politician votes or whether these contributions constitute support for like-minded individuals remains unresolved. By combining past campaign contributions literature with work on politicians intrinsically valuing policy outcomes, the authors offer a simple test that examines how politicians’ voting patterns change when they retire and no longer face the threat of lost campaign contributions. If contributions are causing individual politicians to vote differently, there should be systematic changes in voting behavior when future contributions are eliminated. In contrast, if contributors donate to candidates who intrinsically value the same policies, there should be no changes in how a politician votes during the last period. After testing 661 congressmen, who served in the House of Representatives from 1977 to 1990, the authors strongly reject the notion that campaign contributions buy politicians’ votes. Their estimates demonstrate a remarkable degree of stability in voting patterns over time, thus lending support to past work emphasizing that it is costly for ideological politicians to alter their positions.