The Washington Post

91% of the time the better-financed candidate wins. Don’t act surprised.

There are few talking points more beloved by underdog political candidates (and their aides) than to declare that money doesn't matter. (If it did, Steve Forbes would be the president!)

Well, they're wrong -- at least most of the time.

Take a look at the chart below, created last month by Jasper McChesney, a designer at United Republic, a nonpartisan nonprofit that tries to spread awareness about the influence of money in politics.

The chart analyzes 467 congressional races held in 2012. Its findings:

* Candidates who out-fundraised their opponents were nine times more likely to win elections in 2012.

* Winning congressional candidates outspent their opponents by about 20 to 1.

* Winning candidates on average spent $2.3 million. Losing candidates, on average, spent $1.1 million.

Now, there's a variety of reasons for why the better-financed candidates are victorious much more often (and, conversely, why winning candidates are more often better-financed).

One huge advantage is incumbency. Those who have won election in the past begin any race with the advantage of having already-built fundraising networks. On average, congressional incumbents in 2012 raised more than double the amount of money brought in by their challengers -- and boasted a 90 percent reelection rate.

Also, some would argue that in many cases the candidates who win the most votes do so based on the same electability, popularity and qualifications that make them the best at fundraising, and vice versa. A candidate who is compelling enough to get you to open your wallet should, in theory, also be able to get you to head to the ballot box for him or her.

All that said, as the chart shows, it pays off to be the better-financed candidate.

Wesley Lowery is a national reporter covering law enforcement and justice for the Washington Post. He previously covered Congress and national politics.



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