Professor Pundits: Why GDP is Catnip for Political Scientists

Forget the polls and fundraising reports for a minute. Our pundits, Matt Dickinson and Bert Johnson, say the forthcoming GDP report may be the most important factor in the presidential campaign so far — especially now that the Republican primary seems to be winding down and attention turning to the general election. In their latest update on presidential campaign politics, the pundits discuss GDP, the Supreme Court, and why President Obama would show up in Vermont (the first presidential visit here since 1995).

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  1. Dr. Johnson, what is your opinion of Citizens United? How has Citizens United affected the Republican primaries and how do you predict it will affect the general election?

  2. Thanks for the question. First of all, I think it’s worth pointing out that the Citizens United decision has not led to the “worst case scenarios” outlined by some commentators immediately after the decision was handed down. Major corporations such as General Electric, Google, and Halliburton are not expending money directly in campaigns (although, of course, some wealthy executives have made big contributions). The main effect has been this unexpected rise in “Super PACs,” due not only to Citizens United but also to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in SpeechNow.org v. FEC. The Super PACs have not (so far at least) led to an increase in overall campaign spending, but they have resulted in some shifting in where

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    a lot of the money goes — away from the candidates’ personal campaign organizations and to the Super PACs. This may result in more negativity, since the campaigns may not themselves be held accountable for the actions of Super PACs. There’s also a legitimate concern about disclosure and the potential for coordination between Super PACs and campaigns.

    One concern that some critics have raised (Newt Gingrich after Iowa comes to mind) is that Super PACs have made it easier to “buy” elections. The political science evidence on whether elections can be bought, however, suggests that this is unlikely. Most evidence indicates that the main effect of money is that the lack of money can lose an election for a candidate — it’s much less certain that lots of money can win elections. So I’m much more willing to believe that the existence of Super PACs kept Gingrich and Santorum in the primary race longer than they otherwise would have lasted than I am to believe that Romney’s Super PAC gave him an advantage that he wouldn’t have had otherwise.

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