Last week on the radio, I heard a report comparing how much money the major presidential candidates have raised – how much from PACs and how much from small individual donors (the one-person variety). Apparently Obama has raised as much from individual small donors as Romney has from super PACs. The story went on to focus on comparing each campaign’s number of dollars as a metric for the relative strength of the candidates.
I think they’re focusing too narrowly – where the dollars come from is far more significant as a measure of relative strength. This obsession with absolute numbers can also happen when evaluating online and social media marketing campaigns: the sheer quantity of hits is assumed to prove success. But the true metric is conversion. You can have a million hits, but if none of them converts to a sale, who cares?
It’s the same with dollars from a super PAC: how many of those will convert to actual votes? The conventional wisdom says that more advertising = more people converted. True up to a point, but I would argue that a dollar donated directly from a person who also has a vote to spend is far more valuable.
When people directly invest their own money in a cause, they are investing philosophically and emotionally. Otherwise their wallets would stay in their pants. I think the dollars raised from individuals is far more indicative of voter sentiment than voting projections extrapolated from an ad spend. If so, Romney’s huge war chest may be less powerful than Santorum’s smaller pile, because the latter is mostly from individuals. And Obama’s may trump them both because it has both quality (small donors) and quantity (most money).
I guess it will come down to a test of whether big-bucks advertising can trump voter investment. Since one influences the other, this will be interesting.