04/16/19

Money Myth #5: You can’t make a difference.

This week we close out our series on the Myths about Money in Politics by debunking the most insidious myth of all — that your money, time, and vote don’t matter.

With constant political chatter about dark money swirling around and rumors of billionaires buying elections, it’s hard to believe that a simple contribution to a favored candidate could really make a difference. Admittedly, our site, with its ticker spinning up to show the latest totals in Texas political contributions and spending in the hundreds of millions, can contribute to the sense of futility about making a relatively small donation.

But truth matters, and context matters. And the truth is this: the small contributions, the small acts of political involvement, and your single vote — these are the big things that make a difference.  

Your money matters.

There are some heavy hitters in Texas politics, and every candidate likes to snag the mega-donor, sure. But the trope that a few donors are “buying” outcomes in Austin simply isn’t supported by the data. On the contrary, the data shows a strong correlation between the number of individual donors and victory on election day.

In the 2018 Texas elections, 98 percent of all donations were for $1,000 or less. Despite their relatively small amounts, these donations combined to equal more than 33 percent of the total given. Every candidate knows to closely watch the number of individual contributions to their campaign, because whether the donations are large or small, there’s no better indicator of likely success at the polls. If someone is willing to open their wallet for a campaign, they are highly likely to turn out on election day and even to bring their friends.

Your time matters.

Two Yale professors, Alan Gerber and Donald Green, studied the most effective ways to reach voters, and found that good, old-fashioned block walking — not expensive TV ads or glossy mailers — worked best. Yes, human contact by the candidate or volunteers has been proven to be a highly effective and efficient way to turn out voters.

Even easier than literal block walking is virtual block walking — talking with your friends on Facebook and other social media forums. According to Texas Monthly, Beto O’Rourke spent more on social media advertising than any other candidate in 2018. Once Beto placed the ads, he was depending on citizens to like and share his posts, which they did, in droves. While his campaign fell barely short of unseating Senator Ted Cruz, the online following he generated propelled him to a 2020 presidential run.

Likewise, U.S. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez leveraged social media, including her now nearly four million Twitter followers, first to unseat a long-time incumbent and next to accrue unprecedented power for a House freshman.

These are just the latest examples of how citizens, with a click of a mouse, can change the trajectory of a campaign. By “liking” and sharing your favorite candidates or organizations with your friends on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, you can change the course of an election without ever leaving your couch.

Your vote matters.

Think your vote doesn’t really matter? Ask Adam Milasincic (D), who lost his bid to unseat incumbent Texas House Representative Dwayne Bohac (R) by a mere 0.09 percent of the votes. In fact, in the most recent Texas elections, 11 primary elections (four Republicans and seven Democrats) were won with less than a one percent margin.

At the end of election day, the vote count is the only number that matters. And your vote matters just as much as the mega-donor or the well-connected political insider.

Bottom Line:

Don’t let ominous reports of dark money, corporate PAC money, lavish donations, or excessive money in politics keep you from participating in the political process. Citizens should never be intimidated into thinking their dollars, their voices, or their votes don’t matter. Texans have a long history as independent thinkers and self-governing citizens, and it should stay that way.

Our Money Myths series debunks commons myths about the money in politics. Not regularly receiving updates? Join us here to get the latest analysis delivered straight to your inbox.

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