Analysis: Money doesn’t guarantee electoral success – but it helps
IT IS a pretty common occurrence in politics. More often than not, the party that wins an election is the one that managed to raise most money.
Its ability to spend that income immediately before the election might have been constrained by the campaign rules, but elections are often won and lost long before polling day approaches.
So we should not be surprised that not only did the SNP win last year’s Scottish election by a landslide, but it won the financial race overwhelmingly, too. Moreover, the latest figures show that, despite outspending its rivals, the SNP still has some £1.5m left in the kitty.
That sounds like a very handy sum indeed to have to play with as the party tries to persuade Scots to vote Yes in the independence referendum.
True, the Scottish Government proposes to impose a cap on spending in the three or four months before polling day, but that still leaves the SNP with two years in which to spend its considerable largesse. Might not money prove to be Mr Salmond’s secret weapon?
At this point, however, we should pause. Parties might be helped to win elections because they have spent more money, and indeed there is some academic research that suggests those constituency candidates who manage to outspend their rivals perform rather better than we might otherwise expect.
But it is also the case that, in politics, as in horse racing, money tends to follow the favourite. Parties that look set to win the next election find it easier to raise money for their cause than those who look set to lose. In part, the SNP was able to raise so much money in 2011 because it looked – and indeed was – a winner.
Meanwhile, although money can buy resources, it does not guarantee effectiveness.
Money can help disseminate more widely a message that resonates with voters. But no amount of money can successfully sell what voters come to regard as a dud message.
The SNP’s most crucial task is to ensure it has a worthwhile campaign on which to spend all that money.
• John Curtice is Professor of Politics at Strathclyde University.
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