Congressional campaign spending and the quality of democracy

John J. Coleman, Paul F. Manna

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

100 Scopus citations


Nearly all research on campaign finance overlooks important intermediaries between candidate spending and electoral outcomes. We consider the effects of campaign spending on a variety of factors important to the health of any democracy and political community: trust, efficacy, involvement, attention, knowledge, and affect. Our analysis of the 1994 and 1996 U.S. House elections shows that the effects of campaign spending lie more on the side of democratic boon than democratic bane. Campaign spending increases knowledge of and affect toward the candidates, improves the public's ability to place candidates on ideology and issue scales, and encourages certainty about those placements. Rather than permit House members to mask their voting records, incumbent spending helps improve the accuracy of citizen perceptions of the incumbent's ideology. Spending neither enhances nor erodes trust and efficacy in politics or attention and interest in campaigns. We conclude that campaign spending contributes to key aspects of democracy such as knowledge and affect, while not damaging public trust or involvement.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)757-789
Number of pages33
JournalJournal of Politics
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 2000

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors wish to thank Charles Franklin, David Canon, and Jay Goodliffe for helpful advice, staff at the Federal Elections Commission for data assistance, and the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation for financial assistance.


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