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How Citizens United Leveled the Playing Field, Why Debates Don't Matter How Citizens United Leveled the Playing Field, Why Debates Don't Matte...

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How Citizens United Leveled the Playing Field, Why Debates Don't Matter


(Яick Harris/Flickr)


The Political Landscape is a weekly podcast where we discuss the news of the day with leading experts. 


Opinions over the Citizens United ruling, which opened the door for Super PACs and unlimited donations in political campaigns, have generally fallen along party lines. Republicans in favor. Democrats against. Republicans rationalize that money equals free speech and can’t be regulated. Democrats worry that unregulated money gives a small number of people too much influence on an election.

But you might be surprised to hear that the Citizens United ruling has actually leveled the political playing field this election.

National Journal Hotline executive editor Josh Kraushaar joins us in our first segment this week. This week, Kraushaar wrote about the financial parity super PACs have established this election cycle. Not including super PAC money, President Barack Obama has outspent Republican challenger Mitt Romney $306 to $133 million on battleground state ads. Including super PAC money? Romney actually holds a $396.7 million to $363.2 million edge. 


"If the goal of campaign finance reform is to encourage spending parity between the two sides, super PACs have pulled off the trick," he writes.

In our second segment: Do debates even matter? Columbia political science professor Robert Erikson says maybe not. He’s spent over a decade investigating presidential campaign polls going back to 1952. His findings suggest that while individual debates may move polls temporarily, the culmulative effect from the first to last debate is usually negligible. As if the debates didn’t even happen.

Erikson recently published a book with co-author Christopher Wleizen about the duo's research, "The Timeline of Presidential Elections: How Campaigns Do (and Do Not) Matter."

What does matter? Primary season, conventions, and surprisingly, the last few days before an election. What doesn’t matter? Most events after the conventions.


"Evidently," they write, "the more the mass media and the public pay attention, the less voters change their minds."

Check out last week's episode about why incumbents always struggle in debates.

Check out all past episodes of the Political Landscape.

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