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date: 22 September 2020

Abstract and Keywords

A necessary element of electoral campaigns in mass democracies is money to fund candidate or party campaigns. This is especially true in the United States with its largely privately funded campaigns and primary elections, which determine party nominees. Campaigns expend these funds to persuade voters to turn out and vote for their preferred candidate. Factors such as competitiveness, electoral size, and type of election influence the importance and effectiveness of campaign spending. Since one marker of candidate viability is early fundraising efforts, called the “money primary,” candidates in privately funded systems must first persuade individuals and groups to contribute to their campaigns or spend independently on their behalf. What, if any, limits are placed on who and how much can be contributed to campaigns also play a large role in US elections. Since 2010, there has been a movement away from limiting what individuals and groups, including unions and corporations, can contribute and spend independently on races. These finances fund persuasion efforts, which have largely been on paid television advertising, but have increasingly been spent on database development for individual voter contacts and on social media. These persuasion efforts have changed in recent elections, as the Obama presidential campaigns made innovative use of email and social media, and the Trump campaign of 2016 expanded the use of Facebook and other social media compared to prior campaigns. In all cases, spending on electoral persuasion is used to mobilize or demobilize voters or motivate donors.

Keywords: electoral spending, campaign donors, primary elections, general elections, competitive elections, TV advertising, social media, Super PACs

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