Last year, Donald Trump's presidential campaign spent about half of what Hillary Clinton's campaign did and managed to win the White House.
A Texas Tribune analysis of how much Texas candidates spent per vote reveals that, in some cases, no amount of money was likely to secure an election victory.
The amount a candidate spends per vote is based on three variables: how much a candidate fundraises, how much a candidate spends and, most importantly, how many votes a candidate receives. Statewide campaigns are often, on a cost-per-vote basis, the most efficient, while candidates in races confined to smaller districts and smaller electorates can run up the cost-per-vote tab very quickly.
Looking at how much the candidates spent per vote suggests money doesn’t always make a difference in the final outcome. Some of the most expensive campaigns were run by people you have probably never heard of. In some cases, a candidate entering a general election contest with better name recognition or the right party affiliation for that district didn’t have to spend much money at all.
In the most closely watched Texas race last year — U.S. Rep. Will Hurd's re-election bid against former U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego — Hurd won by fewer than 3,000 votes. But Hurd, a Republican, spent big for that win, shelling out $29.12 per vote, among the highest in the state. Gallego, a Democrat, spent $15.75 per vote.
There are some caveats in the numbers. We looked at only contested races and included spending after the primaries (starting in July) in an attempt to track what campaigns spent on general elections. We waited until the campaign finance reports due Jan. 15 were filed to catch late spending in the campaigns. These numbers don’t include the third-party spending that can prove to be pivotal in some races since those operations are not always required to report exactly how much they spent on each candidate or campaign. Finally, we included all spending by a campaign during the period, which might include non-campaign expenses, such as when an officeholder supplements the pay of a state staffer with money from a political account.
Here, then, are the 2016 general election cost-per-vote numbers:
Ryan Murphy contributed to this analysis.