Friday, November 30, 2007

The Five Billion Dollar Election

The 2008 national elections are expected to cost 5 billion dollars. And this is for a democratic process that American voters have a fickle relationship with. Some would say insignificant.

Voter turnout for national elections is appalling compared to other countries. Since 1945 the average voter turnout for all US elections is 48.3%. That's a big fat 139th place for us. Right behind Burma/Myanmar, for chrissakes. But we may be trending upward. The last Presidential election had a voter turnout of 60.7 percent, the highest since 1968 (Kennedy vs. Nixon). Even so, we hardly deserve a pat on the back, let alone $5 billion dollars worth of "information" overload.

From Arms Race article on Bloomberg:

    Spending for the national campaigns, presidential and congressional, will top $5 billion, as many of the Watergate-era reforms -- public financing of presidential elections and limits on expenditures -- vanish.

    The U.S. spends more per capita on these elections than any other industrialized nation, with the exception of Japan and sometimes Israel. The benefits are dubious.

    ``It isn't clear that we have any comparative advantage from all this freedom to spend money,'' says Thomas Mann, a political scientist at the Brookings Institution who has researched and published a book on money and politics in major democracies.

    Voter turnout is lower in the U.S. than in other major countries, and it's difficult to argue that Americans are better informed. The most expensive campaigns are often the most negative and depress voter interest.

    The current election cycle will look like this: The Republican and Democratic nominees combined will spend more than $1 billion by next November; other presidential hopefuls will fork over another $400 million; congressional candidates can be counted on to spend in excess of $1.5 billion, and the various Democratic and Republican party committees will part with more money than that.

What is more appalling to me is that five billion dollars won't necessarily get us a better election, and that yet again the division of wealth in this country follows us everywhere. Even into the polling booth.

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