Friday, July 27, 2007

Framing Funds

Today's Tennessean headline reads:

Cost of Runoff in Mayoral Race Might Favor Two
The City Paper leads with:

Disclosures: Clement Raises More Dean Spends More

Two candidates are featured, and from one way of interpreting the data, this framing of the story might seem appropriate. Is there another story suggested by the financial disclosures? Look closely at the data compiled by the Tennessean:

Candidate: DAVID BRILEY

Money raised July 1-23: $62,053

Money raised overall through July 23: $600,000*** (*** not an exact figure )

Money left to spend: $32,829

Candidate: BOB CLEMENT

Money raised July 1-23: $115,646

Money raised overall through July 23: $1,365,033

Money left to spend: $548,278

Candidate: KARL DEAN

Money raised July 1-23: $356,210* (* includes $325,000 in personal loans)

Money raised overall through July 23: $1,201,000

Money left to spend: $8,973

Candidate: BUCK DOZIER

Money raised July 1-23: $46,807

Money raised overall through July 23: $532,278

Money left to spend: $83,686

Candidate: HOWARD GENTRY

Money raised July 1-23: $53,696** (**includes $23,000 in personal loans )

Money raised overall through July 23: $386,744

Money left to spend: $44,016

How about these headlines? Clement and Briley Leading the Pack in Late Fundraising OR Briley Continues to Outdistance Dean in Individual Contributions.

Now, I guess I am responding a bit here to the person who said that Briley supporters were disparaging to Dean when pointing out that Briley's individual contributions are larger than Dean's. While I don't think that Dean's ability to use personal funds for his campaign in any way disqualifies him or taints his candidacy, I do continue to be confused over why the newspapers give the impression that he has more support. I think the level of support is at least an open question, and that question ought to be reported honestly. Let's face it, some people are planning to vote for Dean because they believe he has the "better chance." But in assessing the candidates with the better chance, it is a trap to count personal contributions to one's own campaign. Those do not show support. The campaigns own sound bite on that spending acknowledges the long shot nature of Dean's campaign:

Dean spokeswoman Janel Lacey said the campaign has spent significant resources developing material for his door to-door “grassroots” campaign and emphasized, when asked about Dean’s personal contributions, that he “is not a career politician — so we’ve been working to build his name recognition.” (The City Paper, July 27, 2007)

Material for a door-to-door campaign is nothing like the very large door-to-door campaign that has already been underway a long time in the Briley camp. Lacking name recognition is something that reduces one's chances for winning, but the papers keep reporting this as an advantage for Dean. Not being a career politician is a swipe at Clement and frankly demeaning to people who dedicate themselves to public service. Some newspaper reporter ought to point out that Metro Law Director isn't exactly a private sector job. Karl Dean would not disparage people who dedicate their lives to public and political service, but this unexamined sound bite shows up almost every day in this city's newspapers.

Leaving out personal funds lent to the campaign, the candidates rank this way (All my numbers are drawn directly from the Tennessean and City Paper's reports):

Money Raised July 1-23 (the most recent period, an indicator of late, post-polling momentum):

Clement: $115, 646

Briley: $62,053

Dozier: $46, 807

Dean: $31, 210

Gentry: $30,696

Overall Money Raised through July 23:

Clement: $1,365,033

Briley: $600,000

Dozier: $532,278

Dean: $250,000 ($1.2 M (total); $950,000 in personal money)

Gentry: $363,744 ($386,744 (total); $23,000 in personal money)

So, if the story is about how much the campaign has to spend, then inclusion of personal money is most appropriate, but if the question is what does fundraising show about which candidate has broader support, then Briely's numbers show him solidly in second place and the more likely runoff participant when compared to any of the other non-Clement candidates.

Dollars don't vote. On election day, each contributor and noncontributor gets ONE VOTE. Briley clearly has more individual contributors than anyone with the possible exception of Clement. I see no objective way that this data cannot be interpreted to make Briley a favorite for the runoff. Will Dean supporters now vote for Briley because he has the "better chance?" I don't really think they should, but their unwillingness to offer shows the clear fallacy in the so-called strategy of defensive voting. But, I already revealed the circularity of that argument.

So, get away from polls and dollars and yard signs. Get back to the real question: Who is best qualified to lead Nashville into its future? David Briley is the favorite in that race.

5 comments:

Loonytick said...

While the number of donors is certainly key early in a race, at the end I think dollar totals and poll numbers are king. So few voters are contributors, and those who do choose to donate to campaigns aren't really that representative. So while the number of donors tells you something about support initially, it's a poor indicator. Closer to the time, you can find out in much better ways. And when it comes down to it-especially in local elections-the candidate with the most information out there has the best chance. Sad to say, but it's often a matter of how many ads, signs, and fliers are out there, telling people who you are and that you do really want it badly, whether the money to buy them comes from 10 people or a thousand. Now, good grassroots, in-person work by a volunteer network can make up for some of that, or a savvy press person that makes sure the candidate has a ton of media coverage, but again, that has nothing to do with the number of donors.

Anonymous said...

Alan - To be fair, you left out that Briley loaned $100,000 of his 600k to his campaign back in June.

Alan Coverstone said...

I am certainly trying to be fair, and if I missed a Briley loan, it was because I stuck exactly to what was reported in the Tennessean and City Paper today. I did not see an earlier loan.

Don't forget that my point is not that loaning to your campaign is bad. It isn't. It takes a sacrifice and shows how importantly these people value public service. My point is only that the papers have tried to create the impression that all objective data shows Dean and Clement with the most support, and I am pointing out that there are many ways to "measure" support not included in these "news" stories.

The only way that counts is the ballot. So, anyone who votes "defensively" is denying him or herself the chance to elect the person he/she really favors.

The point is that we will not know who is going to win until Thursday. Between now and then each person reading this post could convince hundreds of people to vote their way. I'm trying to do my part. No poll can measure that momentum, and no dollar amount can cause or stop it.

The newspapers contribute to apathy. I am trying to contribute to action.

Anonymous said...

If dollars dont matter and the number of individual contributions is the key item, why has campaign finance reform been such an issue?

Southern Beale said...

"... if the question is what does fundraising show about which candidate has broader support, then Briely's numbers show him solidly in second place ..."

Except they don't. A lot of people may support Dean but not give him $$ because everyone knows he has family $$ to spend.