Why does the US election cost so much?

September 28, 2023


Becoming the most powerful man in the world isn’t cheap.And as the race has descended into something resembling a boxing prize fight the costs have only continued to rise.

Despite the fact that there is still weeks to go until the polls open, the butchers bill has already passed the $1 billion mark.

Image by buggolo

The US election cost puts our own General Election to shame, with only a measly £30 million spent on the entire 2013 contest by parties - a staggering 120 times less than our super-sized cousins.

So with the 2011 vote costing $5 billion and the introduction of super-PACs further fuelling the financial fire fight - it is expected that electing the Leader Of The Free World and House Of Congress (both take place on 6th November) will cost the country almost $6 billion.

But what do they actually spend it on?


It’s believed that Democrats and Republicans are investing so much into TV ads they will actually run out of airspace and commercial time to buy in the run up to the elections.

TV, radio and flyering still make up the bread and butter of campaign budget spends and is seen as the way to reach traditional voters. And despite the harsh economic times, it is expected that together the Democrats and Republicans will channel more than half of their war chests into such adverts for the Presidential and Congressional race.

However, whilst the money is astronomical, the amount of personal wealth that the challengers are bringing has also grown - with Barack Obama expected to contirbute $1 billion to the campaign alone through personal donations.

Whether burgeoning ad spending will have a tangible effect on the elections remains debatable. As the saying goes, no party wins in a cash race…

Online Campaigns

A small but rapidly expanding aspect to campaign spend is their social media engagement. A recent survey by the University of California found that a single Facebook message placed during a congressional election could drive an extra 340,000 to the polling station meaning that the potential for the Presidential race is huge.

The 2011 election was described as being the ‘social media election’ but Facebook only had 100 million then and Twitter had barely launched. With Democrats and Republicans both needing to get their base support out as well as attract undecided voters, social media spending could have a crucial role to play in these tight elections.

The ‘Super-PAC’ Effect

A ruling by the US courts legalising super-PACs has resulted in a ‘fight fire with fire’ approach to campaign spending.

These groups are allowed to raise and donate as much money as they want and often run campaigns on behalf of their favoured candidate.

It is believed that they will have contributed over $750 million by the time Election Day rolls around, providing yet more fuel for the cash burning campaigns.

So all-in-all America will spend more than the entire GDP of Malawi on these elections - the most ever. Anywhere. The sobering fact is that last year in the ‘Land Of Opportunity’ they spent $7 billion on crisps alone - so guess everyone’s lucky a potato isn’t running for President.

Do you think the US election is worth the cost?


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