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Release: August 11, 1999

UI study: Level of campaign finance signals potential voter support for candidates

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Voters can look to campaign contribution levels as signals to see which candidates in the 2000 presidential race have the best chance of winning, according to a University of Iowa study.

With Texas Gov. George W. Bush raising $36 million in the first half of 1999, this huge level of financial support may mean that he has the support to win the Republican presidential nomination, according to Tom Rietz, associate professor of finance at the UI Henry B. Tippie College of Business.

In his study "Campaign Finance Levels as Coordinating Signals in Three-Way Experimental Elections," Rietz says that campaign financing levels can inform voters about the degree of support that a candidate has with other voters. The study also suggests that political parties should rally their support around one candidate to be most effective.

"A party can only win if they coordinate their supporters behind a single candidate. If a party is split, then it's a sure loss," Rietz said.

Used with other pre-election information such as poll results, groups of voters can use campaign finance levels as coordinating signals to see which candidates might win, according to the study.

"Campaign contributions show people that people embrace candidates not only in their words but in their deeds. The level of contributions helps people identify the front runners, so that they don’t waste their votes on a candidate who is behind," Rietz said.

Rietz co-authored the paper with Roger Meyerson and Robert Weber from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University. It was published last year in the journal Economics and Politics.

In the experimental study, the professors used 84 students who contributed money to candidates of their choice and voted in a simulated three-party election. To encourage their interest in making strategic decisions, students were paid cash based on which candidate won the mock elections. In two scenarios, the students were given poll results or campaign finance level information and, in a third scenario, they voted without any poll or financial information.

Without the information, majority voters typically failed to coordinate behind a single preferred candidate, and a third party candidate frequently won without getting the majority vote. But with the campaign finance information, the students could coordinate, electing the majority preferred candidate who had raised the most money. In many cases, they voted for a majority candidate that was their second choice after hearing the unfavorable information about their first choice.

"The students didn't waste votes on candidates who were in the minority. If it looked like the candidate would lose, the students turned to the candidate who they thought would win," Rietz said.

Rietz may be contacted at (319) 335-0856 or email thomas-rietz@uiowa.edu. The study can also be downloaded in an Adobe Acrobat file from http://www.biz.uiowa.edu/finance/faculty/rietz/voting4.pdf.