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No connection between campaign spending and votes

Recently released campaign spending results show that there is no connection between how much candidates spent on election campaigns and how many votes they got.

Last week, the City of Lethbridge published the campaign spending reports for the various candidates in the 2021 municipal election.

Unsurprisingly, there seems to be very little correlation between how much candidates spent on their campaigns and how many people voted for them.

This is something I’ve discussed many times with people, and I even brought it up in my own campaign during the 2021 federal election. I wrote about the topic for Elect Lethbridge after the 2013 election.

But let’s take a look at the candidates so you can see what I mean. First, the mayoral candidates.

ExpensesVotes
Blaine Hyggen$119,805.5011,973
Bridget Mearns$46,022.6311,465
Stephen Mogdan$19,122.812,459
Gary Klassen$5,876.62687
Sheldon Joseph Day Chief$0.001,079
Kolton Menzak$0.00321

So, on the surface, it looks as though spending more as a mayoral candidate meant you’d get more votes.

After all, Blaine Hyggen spent the most and won the most votes. Bridget Mearns spent the 2nd most and won the 2nd largest number of votes. And so on. The only difference is Gary Klasses who got 5th place despite spending the 4th highest amount.

But look what happens when we look at how much the spent and how many votes they received.

% of spending% of vote
Blaine Hyggen62.78%42.79%
Bridget Mearns24.12%40.97%
Stephen Mogdan10.02%8.79%
Gary Klassen3.08%2.45%
Sheldon Day Chief0.00%3.86%
Kolton Menzak0.00%1.15%

So, even though Hyggen spent the most, he spent nearly 63% of all campaign spending among the 6 candidates yet ended up with 42.79% of the vote.

Mearns’ campaign, on the other hand, accounted for only 24.12% of total spending, yet she pulled in just shy of 41% of the vote.

Hyggen spent 20 points more on spending than he got on votes, while Mearns spent roughly 17 points less than what she got in votes.

Furthermore, Hyggen spent nearly $74,000 more than Mearns did, yet, he couldn’t even pull in a majority of the popular vote and ended up winning less than 2 percentage points more of the popular votes that Mearns.

Stephen Mogdan was pretty close to spending what he got in votes, being off by only 1.23 points.

Sheldon Day Chief spent nothing on his campaign yet took in nearly 4% of the vote.

But the discrepancy between spending and votes received was more pronounced with the councillor candidates.

Jenn Prosser$18,753.55
Jenn Schmidt-Rempel$11,725.60
Suketu Shah$11,000.00
Ryan Wolfe$9,967.53
Rajko Dodic$9,844.20
Ryan Parker$8,946.87
John Middleton-Hope$8,646.60
Rufa Doria$8,481.93
Bill Ginther$5,169.86
Wally Schenk$4,877.77

This a list of the 10 candidates—from a total 32 candidates—who spent the most on their campaigns.

Of those, only 4 ended up elected: Jenn Schmidt-Rempel, Rajko Dodic, Ryan Parker, and John Middleton-Hope.

Now to be fair, Ryan Parker was an incumbent, having been on city council since 1998 and often placing in the top 3 during elections. So, he had a bit of an advantage going into the election anyhow, making him a bit of an anomoly.

As well, Rajko Dodic wasn’t an incumbent, but he was on city council previously and even served one term as mayor. He had been out of office for less than 10 years, which means he may have benefited from the same incumbent advantage that Parker did.

So, that leaves us with only 2 of the top 10 spenders who potentially ending up getting elected because of their spending levels.

Now check out how much each candidate spent of those who ended up elected.

SpendingVotes
Rajko Dodic$9,844.2012,079
Belinda Crowson$1,750.0010,738
Jenn Schmidt-Rempel$11,725.6010,463
Ryan Parker$8,946.8710,256
John Middleton-Hope$8,646.6010,046
Mark Campbell$500.009,117
Jeff Carlson$2,007.538,877
Nick Paladino$3,733.977,916

Belinda Crowson, for example, spent a tenth of what Jenn Schmidt-Rempel did yet beat her by nearly 300 votes. Likewise, Mark Campbell spent a quarter of what Jeff Carlson did yet, beat him by over 200 votes.

Here’s a list of how they ranked by both spending and votes.

VotesSpending
Rajko Dodic1st5th
Belinda Crowson2nd21th
Jenn Schmidt-Rempel3rd2nd
Ryan Parker4th6th
John Middleton-Hope5th7th
Mark Campbell6th24th
Jeff Carlson7th18th
Nick Paladino8th11th

Neither Crowson nor Campbell made the top 20 in terms of campaign spending, yet they both ended up on council. Carlson barely made the top 20 and still got elected.

Not only that, but check out when we plot all 32 candidates based on how much they spent and how many votes they received.

Here, we see that there’s just no correlation between how much one spends and the votes they get. There’s no trending of the data. In fact, 75% of the candidates either spent less than or pretty close to $5,000, yet their votes ranged from 406 votes to 10,738 votes.

Even Jenn Prosser, who spent the most ($18,753.55), ended up middle of the pack, as far as the number of votes go (5,872).

Of the candidates who won the election, half of them spent under $5,000 on their campaign and the other half spent over $5,000.

It just doesn’t matter how much you spend on advertising, signs, and pamphlets.

Consider this.

Five of the people elected to council—Campbell, Carlson, Crowson, Dodic, and Parker—were incumbents or were formerly and recently on city council.

Middleton-Hope used to be the city’s police chief.

Nick Paladino was a public sector worker for both the city and the county, and this was his second time running, placing 2 spots higher than in the 2017 election.

Jenn Schmidt-Rempel was previously the publisher for the Lethbridge Living magazine for 10 years. She was also the chair of Economic Development Lethbridge, President of the Allied Arts Council, and served on the Chamber of Commerce board of directors, as well as a director with several other boards.

While spending a crap tonne of money on your campaign won’t hurt your chances of being elected, building name recognition over several years probably does more.

Support independent journalism

By Kim Siever

Kim Siever is an independent journalist based in Lethbridge, Alberta. He writes daily news stories, focusing on politics and labour.

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