US election spending exceeds GDP of numerous countries

The Hill Illustration

Americans spend more on politics and political campaigns than any other nation on Earth, and the 2020 election once again rewrote the fundraising record books.

U.S. spending is such that it’s barely comparable to the amounts in other countries.

In the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party spent 16 million pounds on the 2019 campaign that handed them a majority in Parliament, about $21.3 million based on today’s exchange rate. That’s less than the amount Democrats and Republicans spent on the 21st Congressional District in Texas, where Rep. Chip Roy (R) held off a challenge from former state Sen. Wendy Davis (D) last month.

The most expensive races attract more dollars than some small nations generate as their annual gross domestic product (GDP). Here are some of the most expensive contests of the year, paired with the nations whose GDP they rival.

Georgia’s Senate runoffs: Micronesia

Sens. David Perdue (R) and Kelly Loeffler (R) and Democrats Jon Ossoff and the Rev. Raphael Warnock are clashing over the highest-profile runoffs in Georgia history. With control of the Senate on the line, the two parties and their outside supporters have reserved $315 million on television in just the few weeks after the November elections, according to AdImpact, a nonpartisan firm that monitors the television markets.

That figure does not include all the party-building and get-out-the-vote activities that cost millions more.

The amount spent in Georgia will rival the GDP of the Federated States of Micronesia, which the World Bank pegged at $402 million in 2018. Micronesia’s four states have a population of about 104,000.

Michael Bloomberg: Saint Kitts and Nevis

The former New York City mayor spent hundreds of millions of dollars on a short-lived presidential campaign, and hundreds of millions more supporting President-elect Joe Biden.

Bloomberg’s campaign spent $1.1 billion, almost all of it his own money. That compares with the GDP of Saint Kitts and Nevis, a pair of islands in the West Indies that gained their independence from the United Kingdom in 1983.

The 52,000 inhabitants of the two islands are united under the motto “Country Above Self.”

The DNC and RNC: Northern Mariana Islands

The 53,000 residents of this island chain south and east of Japan are technically U.S. citizens, but because the Northern Mariana Islands are a territory, their GDP is counted separately. The World Bank estimated their 2018 output at $1.32 billion — about the amount raised by the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the Republican National Committee (RNC).

Both parties shattered spending records this cycle, but the RNC, driven by President Trump’s campaign, did so in spectacular fashion. The RNC has reported raising $845 million over the last two years, more than double its prior record from 2008.

The DNC raised $456 million, tens of millions more than its previous best cycle, in 2004.

Joe Biden: Guinea-Bissau

Nestled on the Atlantic Coast between Guinea and Senegal, the tiny nation of Guinea-Bissau is home to an estimated 1.8 million people. The nation generated about $1.34 billion in economic output in 2019, about the same amount of money President-elect Joe Biden raised for his campaign this year.

Biden became the first presidential contender ever to top the billion-dollar mark on his own, without the help of a party committee. He never had a reputation as a particularly prodigious fundraiser — until he benefited from a flood of small-dollar donations from Democrats eager to be rid of Trump.

State-level candidates: Belize

Situated on one of the world’s largest reefs, the Belizean economy that generated $1.88 billion last year is heavily dependent on tourism, oil and sugar.

Its total GDP only narrowly outpaces the amount of money gubernatorial and state legislative candidates raised and spent this year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Democrats raised more money than Republicans, a shift from the 2016 and 2012 election cycles — but the money didn’t make a lot of difference. Only two legislative chambers, the New Hampshire state House and Senate, flipped control this year. Only one state, Montana, elected a governor of a different party than the incumbent.

Outside spending: Faroe Islands

Outside groups, excluding party committees like the RNC and the DNC, combined to spend nearly $2.7 billion on federal races this year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. That’s just under the $2.8 billion generated by residents of the Faroe Islands, an autonomous territory of Denmark.

The Faroe Islands are home to about 52,000 people who live among stunning verdant hills and the bitter cold of the North Atlantic. Faroe Islanders do not have to brave the onslaught of advertising from the biggest outside groups like the Preserve America PAC, a pro-Trump group funded by casino magnates Sheldon and Miriam Adelson that became the largest non-party committee to spend money this year.

Presidential candidates: Liechtenstein

Biden, Trump and their outside allies combined to spend an estimated $6.6 billion on the battle for the White House, more than twice as much as Trump, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and their respective allies doled out in 2016.

That’s about the GDP of Liechtenstein, the principality sandwiched between Austria and Switzerland high up in the Alps. Its population of 39,000 is the fourth smallest in Europe, behind Vatican City, San Marino and Monaco, and it boasts one of the highest per capita GDP in the world.

Congressional candidates: Monaco

Speaking of European microstates, U.S. congressional candidates and their allies raised and spent an estimated $7.2 billion through the end of November’s general election, a figure that’s nearly on par with glamorous Monaco on the French Riviera.

A third of the 38,000 Monegasques, as they are known, are millionaires — which is actually lower than the percentage of Congress with assets north of seven figures, according to a report earlier this year by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Congressional Democrats raised more than $1.2 billion this cycle, against $691 million raised by Republican candidates. The party committees and outside groups accounted for the rest of the spending.

The 2020 elections: Madagascar

Lump all the spending together and the sum total, the Center for Responsive Politics estimates, will land somewhere north of $14 billion dollars. That’s roughly equal to the GDP of Madagascar, the island nation of 26 million people and home to hundreds of animal species found nowhere else on the planet.

Put another way, Americans spent more on the 2020 elections than the $10.7 billion Major League Baseball brought in last year, and nearly as much as the $15.3 billion the NFL pulled in last year.

Tags 2020 election campaign spending Chip Roy David Perdue DNC Donald Trump GDP Georgia Guinea-Bissau Hillary Clinton Joe Biden Kelly Loeffler Michael Bloomberg Micronesia Monaco RNC Saint Kitts and Nevis Texas

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