The folly of just throwing money at political candidates

More often, though, money that is raised quickly and nonstrategically is spent quickly and nonstrategically. Two years from now, when Democrats will face a very difficult time trying to retain control of the House of Representatives, donors may be less enthusiastic than during a presidential-election year. And candidates who spent down their campaign accounts in 2020 will have little wealth to share with state or national parties. For instance, the Senate candidate Jaime Harrison, a South Carolina Democrat, raised a record $107.5 million and spent $104 million, according to current estimates. Moreover, federal law places strict limits on how much one candidate’s campaign can transfer to that of another.

Furthermore, the candidates and messages that yield the most money online are not necessarily the candidates and messages that perform the best with voters. For instance, online fundraisers have long known that outrage is the key to those viral videos that bring in loads of cash, which is why highly provocative candidates such as Trump are so adept at bringing in low-dollar donations for themselves. But as Harrison and McGrath showed, candidates can raise enormous sums online while still losing by double digits.

In the aggregate, the political right is making donations more strategically than the political left.