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Study Shows Dollars Driving Election Outcomes

A new study provides stark evidence on how U.S. elections have become more one dollar, one vote than one person, one vote. (Greg Stotelmyer)
A new study provides stark evidence on how U.S. elections have become more one dollar, one vote than one person, one vote. (Greg Stotelmyer)
August 31, 2016

FRANKFORT, Ky. - As public outrage over the influence of money in politics continues to grow, seen in both the Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump campaigns, a new study by the Institute for New Economic Thinking provides compelling evidence that the U.S. political system is more "one dollar one vote" than "one person one vote."

That doesn't surprise Richard Beliles, chair of Common Cause Kentucky, who supports the movement to overturn the 2010 Supreme Court Citizens United decision which he said "really opened up the door" to secret money.

"It wasn't a very good system before," he said. "That made it worse. The increased money reduced the influence of the general public for access to their political leaders and elected leaders."

Researchers created a chart to track spending and votes in U.S. Senate and House races since 1980. A team led by Thomas Ferguson, director of research at the Institute for New Economic Thinking, discovered a stark correlation.

"Basically, you get the percentage of votes that you have of the percentage of money," Ferguson said. "It's an amazingly crass relationship, and it's very direct and it holds for hundreds of elections."

If money and votes were unrelated, Ferguson said, the chart would be scattered. Almost without exception, he said, the results produced a straight line; when parties spend little to no money, they get the fewest votes, and spending the most money results in the most votes.

Ferguson said the research supports findings from a study from Princeton and Northwestern universities that showed the poor and middle class have virtually zero influence on government when policies are opposed by the wealthiest Americans. He cited the preference by a majority of corporations and top earners for lower taxes as one example of what can happen when politics are driven by money.

"The rest of us have to live with the consequences of that: roads that don't work, schools that are collapsing," he said, "and the notion that the last dollar rather than the last votes should determine things strikes me as a crazy idea."

Ferguson said public financing of elections and giving candidates free and equal time on publicly owned airwaves would be good first steps to reduce the influence of money in politics.

The INET study is online at The Princeton/Northwestern study is at

Greg Stotelmyer , Public News Service - KY