The increasing costs of electoral campaigns reflect some general national trends and some characteristics specific to Texas. The principal elements driving these increases in cost are technological change and increased competition between the parties.
Candidates' expanding us of media in their campaigns is a perpetual source of rising costs. Television advertising has become a significant cost, even in state legislative and local races. This chapter's feature Costs of Campaign Media in Major Texas Markets, 2004 provides some examples of the high price of both television and newspaper advertising.
Elections have become more expensive as the techniques and technology of modern campaigning have gotten more sophisticated. New media such as web sites and other Internet-based methods have increased already rising costs. The Internet has provided a two-way channel for campaigns to mobilize loyalists and new recruits alike, and to acquire information about the attitudes, habits, and location of consumer-voters.
While the initial costs of starting your own Web site or sending e-mail are very low, integrating these tools into a professionally run, well organized campaign can be expensive. New media have added new costs (e.g., hosting services, webmasters, sound and video specialists, writers, managers, analysts) even as the costs of established media (e.g., television ad production, ad rates) have also risen. For additional discussion of how groups use media in politics, see the section on media campaigns in the Interest Groups chapter of Texas Politics.
Technological change also adds costs in the form of the mundane but substantial equipment needs that campaigns must meet. Computer hardware and software, personal digital assistants, cell phones and land lines, copiers, fax machines, televisions, and the other machinery needed to operate any modern enterprise have raised campaign costs. So has increased use of both well-known and little-known tools of modern campaigning such as voter databases, direct mail, preference polling, statistical analysis, focus groups, advertising spots, media consultants, image consultants, phone-banks, candidate websites, and e-mail.
As recent elections have illustrated, these technology-focused methods of campaigning have not replaced traditional labor-intensive political methods. Campaigns, particularly at the state and local level, still depend on face-to-face campaign methods attending public events and meetings, going door to door to meet voters, and other methods based on face-to-face contact. But campaigns increasingly combine these traditional political methods with modern, capital intensive technology. Employing new technology-driven methods costs money, and lots of it.
Despite the costs, technology often spurs political creativity. Though many have promoted the political potential of the Internet since its inception, only recently has digital technology led to new, relatively low-cost political tools that have found wide use at all levels of the political system. In Texas during the 2004 election, for example, candidates from outside the state used the Internet to reach across the length and breadth of Texas to find contributors and activists to work on national campaigns. This was especially evident during the 2004 primary season in the Democratic Party. Similarly, independent organizations, most notably Moveon.org, injected themselves into election politics, though mostly by siding with major party candidates for office.
The 2004 campaign season also saw increasingly widespread use of e-mail by state legislative and judicial candidates to mobilize and organize supporters. The mainstream media was also joined by a new type of information source, bloggers, who commonly fused writing and reporting about politics and elections with advocacy for candidates and parties. The long-term role of bloggers and other Internet-based independent purveyors of information and activism is unclear. Their rise illustrates the tendency of rapid technological change to generate unexpected innovations that are incorporated into political competition.
But technological innovation may be slow to catch on. Despite claims that the Internet will radically change politics, wholesale transformations have yet to appear. Instead of the Internet "changing everything," Internet technology has typically been grafted onto existing campaign strategies and tactics. We have yet to see a transformative political movement or candidate emerge straight from cyberspace.
As technology costs have risen, more competition between the parties in Texas has also meant more money pouring into pitched efforts to win elections. As the Republican Party has broken the Democratic Party's historic hold on the South, both parties have fought increasingly intense campaigns with ever-larger financial war chests. As party fortunes have shifted, so too has each party's share of money changed, as discussed in the Texas Politics feature on Money and Votes in Texas.