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Politics
The Party Line is dedicated to examining regional issues and policies through the figures who give shape to them. These are critical, complex, and even downright confusing times we live in. There’s a lot to navigate nationally and in the Carolinas; whether it’s elections, debates on gay marriage, public school closings, or tax incentives for economic development. The Party Line’s goal is to offer a provocative, intelligent look at the issues and players behind the action; a view that ultimately offers the necessary insight for Carolina voters to hold public servants more accountable.

Candidates Waste Much Of Their Money In Advertising

As many presumptive presidential candidates are heavily engaged in the ‘invisible primary’ process right now, the key caucus activity of this phase of the race for the 2016 White House is fundraising.

And if 2014 is any indication, 2016 should break all fundraising records.

According to the Center for Responsible Politics’ tracker, over $3.7 billion was spent in the 2014 election cycle. More than 70 percent of that money came from candidates and political parties. With about $750 million spent by outside and 527 groups, the financial arms race was taken to new levels between liberal and conservative groups.

In North Carolina, for example, the nearly $115 million U.S. Senate contest between incumbent Democrat Kay Hagan and Republican challenger (and victor) Thom Tillis saw a huge influx of outside groups supporting and opposing both candidates.

According to OpenSecret.org, nearly $82 million was spent either for or against both Tillis and Hagan. In fact, for every dollar spent supporting one of the candidates, nearly $3 was spent in ads opposing one of two candidates.

But how much impact did this tsunami of money have?

In a recent article for The Crystal Ball, Emory University political scientist Alan Abramowitz looked at the influence of money in last year’s mid-term election. And what he finds – and North Carolina’s U.S. Senate election results confirm – is that the partisanship of voters influenced the vote more than money.

Abramowitz finds that the real impact of the millions dumped into U.S. Senate campaigns was ultimately one of “diminishing returns,” and was more likely causing voters in these targeted states to “turn off their televisions” rather than truly influence their vote.

He found that with the relatively balanced spend by both conservative and liberal groups, it was presidential partisanship level that “was by far the strongest predictor of the election results.

In 2014’s North Carolina U.S. Senate contest, I looked at the percentage that both Hagan and Tillis received in all 100 counties compared to the percentage for both President Obama and Romney.

The power of a county’s presidential vote in 2012 was closely aligned to the election results two years later, creating a relationship that is as close as one can get. And it wasn’t just in North Carolina. This trend of presidential partisanship impacting U.S. Senate races is evident across the nation.

What we are most likely seeing, even with the millions that will flood into North Carolina next year, is the fact that voter partisan loyalty will drive the electoral results.

Ultimately, while $115 million in 2014 went mostly for the air war through TV and radio spots, any smart campaign — whether for presidential, U.S. Senate, or gubernatorial contests — would be wise to consider diverting a significant slice of that financial armament to the 2016 ground game.