Michael Bloomberg hopes to use his fortune to top the polls in the Democratic Primaries. Liam Glen writes on why financing is not the be-all and end-all of winning elections.
Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has filed paperwork to run in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary in Alabama. The state has the earliest deadline for candidates, so this is surely a signal that the centrist politician is finally pursuing his dream of a presidential run.
According to the same report, Bloomberg will pursue an unconventional strategy. Rather than tirelessly campaigning and building grassroots support in early states like Iowa and New Hampshire, he will run a massive advertising blitz in large states in Texas and California.
Listed by Forbes as the world’s eighth-richest man, worth $52.3 billion, Bloomberg certainly has the funds to do this. He evidently believes elections are something that can be brought – and his critics fear the very same thing – but the reality of a presidential primary is in fact more complicated.
The Not-So-Almighty Dollar
No one can deny that money holds a great deal of influence in politics, but the relationship between raising funds and winning votes is much weaker than many would think.
Political scientists are skeptical that well-funded campaigns have much of an advantage in general elections, where factors like partisanship and incumbency are paramount. After all, no amount of money could elect a liberal Democrat in Wyoming or a conservative Republican in Hawaii.
Even prominent donor Jonathan Soros points out the diminishing returns in campaign expenditure. Once candidates can afford to hire enough staff and run enough advertisements to make themselves known to voters, further spending does not make much of a difference.
In many lower-profile primaries, this is all that is needed. It worked well enough when Bloomberg switched to the Republican Party in 2001 to run for mayor, ultimately coming to a surprise victory in no small part thanks to his large fortune.
But this strategy is less effective on the presidential stage, where rival candidates have no shortage of name recognition and campaign infrastructure. And contrary to Bloomberg’s belief, voters are not sheep who will support whoever runs the most advertisements. They will only vote for him if he has a case for why he is better than the opposition.
The Candidate No One Asked For
If someone does not have what it takes to appeal to voters, practically no amount of money can save them. Jeb Bush’s infamous 2016 campaign failed despite raising a massive $130 million.
The right type of moderate might have a chance at the nomination, but Bloomberg has a knack for taking unpopular stances. In 2006, for instance, he opposed death benefits for the families of ground zero workers due to budget concerns.
Today, this is best illustrated by his near-comical opposition to recreational cannabis. While two-thirds of Americans favor legalization, he referred to such a policy as “perhaps the stupidest thing anybody has ever done.”
Bloomberg hopes to shear off support from the plurality of Democrats that support fellow moderate Joe Biden, but this is a risky strategy.
Biden is trusted by Democratic voters because he was Obama’s vice president. Meanwhile, Bloomberg has spent his political career as a Republican and Independent. At the same time, much of Biden’s support comes from African-American voters, who might be reluctant to support Bloomberg due to his support of stop-and-frisk policing, among other controversial policies.
Better Use of Funds
Bloomberg should be perfectly aware of all of this. It is the reason that he did not enter the race earlier, and why he might still have misgivings.
No matter what he may want, he cannot buy the presidency. But that does not mean that nothing good can come of his fortune.
Continuing his strategy of funding lower-level Democratic politicians, if done strategically, would be massively more helpful to his cause.
Moreover, Bloomberg could affect change directly. One of his finest moments was donating millions to make up for the US’s failed climate change commitments.
Such action would be far more effective and make for a far more praiseworthy legacy, than wasting money on a doomed presidential campaign.