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Thank You, David Brooks!

- October 20, 2010

I started reading David Brooks’ Op-Ed from yesterday on “the effect of campaign spending on elections”:http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/19/opinion/19brooks.html?_r=1&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss and was dismayed to see a familiar pattern: he wanted to make the point that money isn’t all that influential, and started rattling off examples of individual races where candidates who had spend more money actually lost the race (Phil Gramm! Mike Castle!). I was all set to write a witty parody where I argued that smoking doesn’t really cause cancer because I know some really old people who have smoked all their lives. But then, lo and behold, I came to the end of the column and found the following:

bq. Political scientists have tried to measure the effectiveness of campaign spending using a variety of methodologies. There is no consensus in the field. One large group of studies finds that spending by incumbents makes no difference whatsoever, but spending by challengers helps them get established. Another group finds that neither incumbent nor challenger spending makes a difference. Another group finds that both kinds of spending have some impact.

We spend a lot of time berating journalists for not taking account of political science research in their writings, so I would like to acknowledge Brooks’ effort in this regard. Of course, the very fact that I am doing this shows just how wide the gap is in this regard between reporting on science and reporting on politics: could you imagine a cancer researcher thanking a journalist for thinking to include a reference to actual cancer studies in a newspaper article? I also imagine the cancer article would probably lead with the scientific data and not the anecdotes, but I’m not going to quibble with Brooks about the structure of the piece. However, it would have been nice to have seen some references to the studies to which he was referring. I understand this may not have been practical in the print version of the Op-Ed, but certainly there could have been something in the online version. But overall, a Monkey Cage shout out to David Brooks is in order.

Now if only we could get some consensus as a field as to the effect of campaign spending…

(And for those of you who either (a) disagree with Brooks’ characterization of the state of the field or (b) want to highlight your or someone else’s work on the effect of campaign spending, please feel free to use the comments section to do so! If you have a longer commentary, you can also email me directly.)

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