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Rick Scott take note: self-financing candidates win only 11% of their elections

By on June 23, 2010

Rick Scott take note: while candidates with big war chests hold a significant advantage over their opponents, the advantage is diffused when most of the money comes from a candidate’s own pockets. The traditional advantages of being the top fundraiser in a race, or being an incumbent, don’t confer the same level of success to self-financiers. That trend holds true for candidates from all parties.  In fact, in the last nine years, only 11 percent of self-financed candidates won their races. Early primary results in 2010 show this trend may be continuing.

In the years 2000 through 2009, candidates bet on themselves to the tune of $925.1 million, accounting for 12 percent of the money candidates raised from all sources. Most candidates don’t provide the majority of their own funds–only 8 percent of the candidates did, or 6,171 out of the more than 75,000 candidates who ran for state office. When they did, they won only 11 percent (668) of the seats sought. About 16 percent (997) of self-financiers contributed enough to become the top fundraisers in their races. However, self-financiers who were also the top fundraisers won only 541 races, or 55 percent of the time.

In contrast, candidates who were not significantly self-financed and who enjoyed the fundraising advantage won 87 percent of their races. Incumbency helped self-financed candidates; self-financed incumbents enjoyed the highest rate of electoral success, winning 73 percent of the seats sought. That figure, however, is significantly lower than the 92 percent win rate of incumbents who were not self-financed. For more information about fundraising and incumbency advantages, see the Institute’s report, The Role of Money and Incumbency in the 2007-2008 Elections. Candidates who funded themselves did better in open races than when challenging incumbents. Without any incumbency advantage, self-financiers won 9 percent of their races for open seats, but only 4 percent of the contests when seeking to oust an incumbent.

All in all, candidates who provided most of their own financing raised $849.4 million; $700.6 million that came directly from the candidate or the candidate’s immediate family members and the rest from other sources.

The trend held regardless of party affiliation: self-financed Republicans won about the same number of seats as did self-financed Democrats. Republicans won 12 percent of their contests, Democrats 11 percent. Self-financed third-party candidates won fewer than one percent of their races (see the Institute’s report, Third Party Candidates Face Long Odds.)

Continue reading: The Efficacy of Self-Funding a Political Campaign — Methodology

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