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$14 Million In Campaign Spending Down, $4.4 Billion Still To Go

If you’re reading this article, there’s a decent chance you’re a political junkie. You probably have strong opinions on most of the presidential candidates. Yet, as I pointed out this morning, the Republican presidential primary contest is still in its infancy. Most voters — if they’re even paying attention — are still making up their minds.

And those voters will have a lot of “help” picking a candidate; campaigns and super PACs are going to spend a lot of money to influence voters. Most of that spending hasn’t happened yet. TV ad spending alone is expected to reach $4.4 billion (including the general election campaign). The total spent so far by the GOP campaigns and the outside groups backing them: about $14 million.

All that money will have a cannonball-sized effect. We’re already seeing the first drips of money causing ripples.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s support has increased in New Hampshire, which coincides with pro-Kasich super PACs’ spending a campaign-leading $3.7 million on TV there, according to NBC News. The money might not explain all that’s happening, but it’s likely a contributor. Franklin Pierce University found that Kasich’s favorable rating climbed 26 percentage points from March to August — the second-biggest increase, behind Carly Fiorina’s. Kasich’s support has hit double digits in horse-race polls in the Granite State, even as he remains at 5 percent or below in Iowa and nationally.

Super PACs supporting Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s bid for president have so far spent $1.6 million on TV ads in Iowa. That may help explain this weekend’s Des Moines Register Iowa poll results. While Jindal hasn’t made gains in the horse race, he was the only candidate who has held political office1 to make substantial gains in favorability. The share of GOP voters who view Jindal favorably rose from 43 percent in May to 61 percent in late August (his unfavorable rating remained mostly unchanged — 19 percent in May and 18 percent in August). Jindal hasn’t seen a big increase in favorability ratings either nationally or in New Hampshire over the past few months.

So does this mean that all a campaign or super PAC has to do is spend money and watch the numbers change? No. Better-known candidates may have a more difficult time changing the public’s impression of them. A super PAC supporting former Texas Gov. Rick Perry spent $1.4 million on TV ads in Iowa, and his favorable rating … dropped. Super PACs backing New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie have spent $1.4 million in New Hampshire, and his slide in the polls continues. There’s also a point at which there are diminishing returns for every dollar spent; when every campaign is dumping tons of money into the race, one more $100,000 ad buy won’t do much.

This is all a long way of saying you should expect the race (and polls) to change. The Republican establishment is still waiting on the sidelines, and a lot of money will be spent in the 150 days that remain until the Iowa caucuses.


  1. Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina and Donald Trump also became more liked.

Harry Enten was a senior political writer and analyst for FiveThirtyEight.