Monday, October 18, 2010

In Elections Free Speech is Not Without Cost

Everybody knows that the First Amendment to the Constitution, which reads:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Freedom here refers to Congress putting restrictions on what people can say or, as some recent court rulings have decided, how they can express themselves.  Of course, Congress can put some limits on what people can say, or at least pass laws punishing people who violate these restrictions.  National Security is one area where speech can be restricted and libelous comments or harming someone's reputation with false and slanderous comments about them.

However, having the right to say what one wants is not the same as having free access to the means to communicating one's political opinions.  

Ask any politician.  They are perfectly free to talk about their ideas and describe what they will do if elected.  However, in order to spread their words far and wide they need money.  Money to travel and meet the voters, money to rent halls to speak in, money to pay for radio and TV time, etc.  

Simply having one's name on the ballot generally won't result in people voting for that person.  One has to get out to meet and talk to voters so that the voters get to know them and want to vote for the candidate.  

We are now about two weeks from Election Day and candidates are scrambling to get the word about their candidacy and convince as many potential voters as possible to vote for them.  However, in this election as in many past ones, significant trends are emerging that indicate that Republicans have the momentum and appear set for a big win.

In addition to polling data and the general mood of the voters - this year Republican voters and others favoring Republican candidates seem excited and eager to get out and vote for their candidate while Democrats and others not wanting a Republican victory seem increasingly resigned to defeat.  

In addition to polling data, candidate fund raising can also be an indicator to predict an election outcome.  As I stated above, candidates need money to get the word out about themselves in order to win.  However, there is an opportunity cost to donating money to campaigns.  Large donors often expect to get access to the candidate once he or she is elected while small donors are generally satisfied with the opportunity to help the person who shares their views win.  

Obviously a large donor won't get any access to an office holder for his or her money if the candidate loses and small donors won't enjoy the satisfaction of having helped the person they believed was best suited for the job win if the candidate loses.  So while supporters may still voice support for a candidate that is losing most will be reluctant to throw money away on a losing candidate.  

So, the ease or difficulty with which a candidate can raise money as an election season draws to a close is another indicator of an election outcome.

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