Clean Elections Make for Extremists?

Imagine, for a moment, that you didn’t need to raise money to run for office, that the government would pay you to run. Who would that help? Would it encourage more moderate candidates, who are usually pressured out of nomination contests by party money because they don’t stand for anything? Or would it enable the extremists, whom are normally de-funded due to concerns about their toxic views?

The answer, courtesy of political scientists Michael Miller and Seth Masket, may surprise you:

These findings suggest that it’s the more ideologically extreme candidates who take advantage of clean funding to run for office. Under the traditional funding system, party donors function as gate-keepers, reducing the power of extreme candidates by channelling money away from them. Take away the gate-keepers, and it’s the extremists who break through, contributing to the polarization of the legislature.

More details in Seth’s post.  Here’s the paper.

One Response to Clean Elections Make for Extremists?

  1. Andrew Gelman April 6, 2012 at 11:48 am #

    My understanding was that the purpose of public funding (or, more generally, of measures to “take the money out of politics”) is to reduce the impact of rich contributors and interest groups. That is, the relevant dimension is not left vs. right (with center being good and extremism being bad) but big-money vs. voters. If a candidate gets a lot of corporate support, he might be centrist on a left-right scale while being big-money-oriented on the issues that matter for his or her contributors.