What the ideological content of contribution records tells us about the 2008 Presidential Election
Regardless of one’s beliefs about how the 2008 Presidential Election ranks among other historic elections, it was certainly the most active and actively watched money race in the nation’s history. The $1.75 billion raised by presidential hopefuls from both parties more than doubled the amount raised during the 2004 Presidential Election. The surge of candidates declaring their intentions to run within months of the 2006 Midterm elections and the storied showdown between the Obama and Clinton campaigns for the Democratic nomination led to a primary season that started earlier and ended later than any in recent memory. All of this provided a seemingly endless stream of contribution data that, among other things, is ideal for tracking the ideological progression of the candidates over the course of the election. The figure below combines the IMWA with smoothing techniques to get an idea of how the election progressed.
Ideological Progression of Candidates during the 2008 Presidential Election: The presidential candidate trends are estimated in a two-step process. This first step recovered ideological estimates from an IMWA scaling that included all contributions from the 3125 PACs and 131,000 individuals that gave to two or more federal campaigns during the 2007-2008 Election Cycle. Holding the contributors estimates static, the presidential candidate trends are then smoothed over time using locally-weighted regression (LOESS) with a span of .3.
Although the plot largely speaks for itself, there were a few features that caught my attention. The first is that, with the exception of Biden and Richardson, the Democratic candidates generally maintain a consistent rank ordering, whereas the ordering of the Republican candidates is much more chaotic. The second point of interest is the Obama campaign’s move to the center during the run-up to the general election. I would venture to guess that this was this was the combined effect of Sarah Palin’s VP nomination and the financial meltdown, but that is just speculation.