The Conley-Walsh Contrast: Money Muscle vs. Muscle Muscle

There was a striking contrast in political news in the July 16 Boston Globe. One story announced Mayoral candidate Daniel Conley set to launch TV ads — they are expensive but Conley has the money. Another story revealed that Massachusetts Democratic Party Chair John Walsh would step down to move to Governor Deval Patrick’s “together PAC.” Walsh isn’t known for the muscle of money but the muscle of muscle – specifically the muscles in the feet and legs of the thousands of volunteers he deployed door-to-door to help elect Governor Patrick and Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey.

So we may soon have a lesson in the importance of money versus volunteer power in the mayoral election.

According to the Conley story, the candidate planned to start placing ads on television last Tuesday and keep running them until the preliminary election on September 24. This could be effective especially if Conley has the airwaves to himself for a prolonged period (Councilor Felix Arroyo was also to begin TV ads on Latino stations last week). Gabriel Gomez got the Republican US senate nomination because he had the money to go on TV and his two opponents did not. As Professor John Sides points out again and again over at, TV ads are most effective if the candidate can vastly outspend the opponent on TV.

But to get the most out of that advantage, TV ads in July and August may not give a lot of bang for the buck. TV ads undoubtedly have an effect, but that effect erodes very quickly. As Prof. Sides explained last November:

So how fast is the decay?  In the famous randomized experiment during Rick Perry’s 2006 gubernatorial campaign, Gerber, Gimpel, Green, and Shaw found that:

…the current week’s advertising raises Perry’s vote share by 4.73 percentage points per 1,000 GRPs…a week later, the effects of these ads…receded to −0.17 percentage points.

Now this is a mayoral election, not a high profile presidential, gubernatorial, or senate election; so maybe that is a meaningful difference. But if the academic studies hold up Conley will have to stay on the air the entire remaining period, as he has indicated he will do. This may be the most expensive and inefficient manner to spend money. Remember to buy Boston he has to buy Stoneham and Stoughton and everything in the Boston market. The Red Sox are fun again, the Cape beckons . .  .

John Walsh isn’t some naïve romantic; he is fully aware of and deploys campaign techniques that cost money, including TV. But what he has stood for is the ability of individuals to band together and make a difference in their communities by interacting personally with voters. As Gerber and Green have shown, the most effective campaign techniques are the most personal. Walsh and Governor Patrick have expressed not only faith in the personal approach as producing results, but a philosophical attachment to personal politics as an alternative to the sterile and typically negative television ads that dominate political advertising.

Money versus muscle is one of the fascinating stories to watch in this mayoral election.



About Maurice T. Cunningham

Maurice T. Cunningham is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts at Boston. He teaches courses in American government including Massachusetts Politics, The American Presidency, Catholics in Political Life, The Political Thought of Abraham Lincoln, American Political Thought, and Public Policy. His book Maximization, Whatever the Cost: Race, Redistricting and the Department of Justice examines the role of the DOJ in requiring states to maximize minority voting districts in the Nineties. He has published articles dealing with the role of the Catholic Church in Massachusetts politics and on party politics in the state. His research interests focus upon the changing political culture of Massachusetts.
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