Money Blurts

Monkey Cage reader Thomas forwards this Washington Post piece and asks whether fiery rhetoric—e.g., Michele Bachmann’s saying that Obama has “anti-American views”—is an effective tactic for raising money.  Here’s how the Post’s reporters, Dan Eggen and T.W. Farnam, describe the phenomenon:

Here’s how it works: An up-and-coming politician blurts out something incendiary, provocative or otherwise controversial. The remark bounces around the blogs and talk shows and becomes a sensation.

Off the top of my head, I don’t know of any systematic studies of rhetoric and candidate fundraising.  Perhaps a reader can supply some in comments.

But it strikes me that we need to disentangle three features of a “money blurt.”  First is the provocative nature of the politician’s statement.  Second is the heated exchange between supporters and opponents of the politician that arises after the statement.  Third is the publicity that such an exchange creates.  The question is: which of these is most important?  Provocativeness alone is not enough.  What motivates donors—and what figures in many messages to those donors—is the idea that the politician is being unfairly attacked for their statement.  So a provocative statement that doesn’t elicit much criticism probably won’t bring in as much money.  And of course, #3 is also significant: if potential donors are not really aware of the statement or the backlash against it, then they won’t be motivated to donate.

It seems to me that the best way to stop a blurt from generating money is to ignore it.


2 Responses to Money Blurts

  1. Andrew Rudalevige June 20, 2011 at 3:50 pm #

    One might also want to know how much money said “blurts” can raise for the *other* side? Polarizing statements will show up quickly in fundraising efforts in the “let’s show XX that Americans stand against his/her lunacy…” mold. A hypothesis: Ted Kennedy raised as much money for the Republican party as for the Democrats.

  2. Keith Smith June 20, 2011 at 4:00 pm #

    Not exactly the same thing, but Justine Buchler at Case Western has some work showing the relationship between being despised (his measure is epithets in Google searches) and fundraising. The more despised by the opposition, the more money you raise (though there is a tradeoff with electoral margin). So to the extent that people who blurt things out tend to become more despised than others (and Bachman certainly qualifies here), they may raise more money.

    (The work was presented at MPSA this year.)