What does it cost to be the President?

November 4, 2016 - 6 minutes read

The presidential elections continue to run up quite a tab with each passing year. The 2016 US presidential race has seen the Clinton campaign spent more than $1 billion and around $800 million by the Trump campaign. The proliferation of super PACs capable of raising unlimited funds, are shattering previous records, spending significantly more than in 2012.


Let’s check the price tag

As the campaigns for the 58th Presidential election draws to a close, candidates have spent over 3 billion dollars paying for staff, advertisements and tours across the country. Hillary Clinton’s campaign alone has raised $556 million, not accounting the money raised by joint committees and super PACs. The campaign has already used up 93 percent of the total $1.3 billion raised so far.

With every presidential campaign, campaigning cost appear to be on a steady rise . In 2008, Barack Obama raised $778 million, of which he spent $730 million to get to the White House. Then in 2012, when he contested again, the Obama campaign raked in $875 million. 52 million dollars alone was spent on online advertising, a medium that didn’t exist a decade back.

So campaigning methods happen to evolve with the times. The goal is to acquaint the candidate to the public through any method possible. That might involve TV, radio and print ads, billboards, lawn signs, mail and leaflets to get the word out. None of which comes cheap in a nationwide campaign.


Creating the Presidential brand

Andrew Jackson was one of the initiators of modern campaigning strategies. In the election of 1828, Jackson organized rallies and raised money using a campaign staff to reach out to the people. The voter turnout nearly doubled that of previous elections.

At present, TV is, of course, the easiest for a candidate to get in the public eye. Which is why it is also the most expensive. Obama spent $500 million dollars on TV ads over the course of his 2012 campaign. Most candidates spend big on media which pervades the masses better – so a 30 second Super Bowl ad costing as much as 5 million is a fair investment for someone vying for the Oval office. It started with a certain Republican candidate, Dwight D. Eisenhower in the 1952 presidential race when he spent about $1.5 million on televised campaign ads.

It’s no wonder campaign costs have risen steadily every election cycle. But politics have always had a close association with money. In the 1700s, only white male landowners over 21 years of age were allowed to vote. This means only the affluent had a say.

Now with fundraising committees and Super PACs pouring in billions to get the candidate of their pick into the President’s chair, is it just a money game?


Are elections won by the candidate with more money?

Not actually true.

If we compare campaign figures of past presidential elections, it is evident that financial advantage does not dictate who wins the public vote. In 1964, Lyndon Johnson spent about as half as his opponent Barry Goldwater. Kennedy in 1960 and Bill Clinton in 1996 spent lower than their opponents on their respective campaigns. All three of them won the Presidential race.


Can it be done without the fund?

Maybe technology would help lower the cost. Digital ads have a wide reach and social media builds a presence on par with ad campaigns. Interestingly, Donald Trump has spent far less than his Republican predecessor Mitt Romney did in 2012 in his campaign. He does it through being vocal on Twitter which makes way for free publicity from news channels.

In his own words,

“I’ve gotten so much free advertising, it’s like nothing I’d have expected. When you look at cable television, a lot of the programs are 100 percent Trump, so why would you need more Trump during the commercial breaks?”

And this year, campaign spendings have actually shown a drop from the figures in 2012. Just in September, parties and outside groups have spent $3.2 billion on the races. Which, however high, is still $210 million lower than the money spent from the same period in 2012 (according to the nonpartisan Campaign Finance Institute).


Can it be done on your own?

Trump initially announced he’d fund his entire campaign himself. It certainly isn’t true anymore but a large chunk of his campaign fund does come out of his own pocket. Abraham Lincoln’s decision to finance his own campaign nearly got him bankrupt. But it certainly did win him the Presidency.

Come November 9th, the winner of the year-long race might get to say it was all worth it. But if the millions flushed away still don’t get you a 4-year stay at the White House, what more would it take?