Presidential Campaign Attention: Why Most States Aren't Worth Any Despite Their Generosity

by Andrea Levien, Presidential Tracker // Published November 1, 2012

Presidential Tracker Update: FairVote has been tracking all the major party nominees for president and vice-president closely since the party conventions. See our latest summary here, which shows that the candidates have yet to hold a single public campaign event in 40 states. We will issue a final campaign tracker on November 7th, 2012, and later issue a comprehensive analysis including details on campaign spending in 2012 and past elections.




How much is a state worth in a presidential election? 

The two major presidential campaigns have been answering that question for months by deciding where to hold campaign events and where to spend ad money. As of Halloween, the candidates had held two-thirds of their public events since September 7 in just three states - Ohio, Florida, and Virginia. They and their allied groups have also spent 55% of their ad money in those same three states, according to the Washington Post. At the same time, our Presidential Tracker shows that the candidates have failed to hold a public event in 40 states thus far.

But candidates don't only visit states to court voters with public rallies and speeches; they travel to raise money as well. The candidates have traveled far and wide to raise money for their campaigns, from Utah to Minnesota to Louisiana. Indeed, candidates travel for fundraisers proportionally to a state's population: big states have more fundraising visits and small states have fewer, particularly before the fall campaign. Safe or swing, as long as a state has enough potential donors, the candidates will have been there. However, that does not mean that the candidates have done anything to try to win votes in  those states. Unless you live in a swing state (of whatever size), your only chance of interacting with a presidential candidate in-person is to donate hundreds or thousands of dollars to his campaign.

Last week, for example, Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan appeared at fundraisers in solidly Republican Southern states, but only held rallies and public events in familiar swing states: Nevada, Ohio, Virginia, and Wisconsin. On October 24, Ryan attended a fundraiser in Atlanta, Georgia. The cheapest ticket was $500. $10,000 bought a picture with Ryan, and $25,000 bought a chance to speak with him.

Joked Ryan about his brief trip into safe-state territory, "You probably don't see all the ads, do you?" He continued, "There is so much clutter out there. If you come into one of these battleground states, you can't run away from it. The reason I'm thanking you for your generosity is because it helps us cut through this clutter."

On the 26th, before a three-day tour of Ohio, Ryan attended two more Southern fundraisers, one in Greenville, South Carolina, and one in Huntsville, Alabama. The prices tags for both events were equally steep.  

Ryan did not interact with non-donors during any of these visits.

Ryan's trip to the South is only the most recent example of an unfortunate trend: candidates heading to safe states to raise large sums of money while ignoring potential voters who can't afford to donate $500-$1,000 to their campaigns. In September, Mitt Romney visited Utah to fundraise, but did not make any public appearances. He has done the same thing in Georgia and Texas, even venturing into blue states like New York and California to collect money from supporters there. Indeed, donating money or canvassing and phone banking out of state is the only way that Romney supporters in New York can help to elect their candidate of choice: under winner-take-all method of allocating electors, none of the millions of Republican votes in New York will go into the final Electoral College tally.

President Obama and Vice President Biden have been equally discriminating in their fundraising and vote courting efforts. Throughout this hectic fall campaign, both candidates have found time to fundraise in New York, California, Massachusetts, and Illinois, but have yet to find the time to hold a public event in any of these states. If there is money to be collected, in Louisiana or Missouri for instance, the candidates will make an appearance. But if there are no electoral votes up for grabs, they will head straight from their planes into the fundraisers, speaking nary a word to anyone who isn't donating.

Below is a chart of the top ten donor states, comparing donation-courting attention to vote-courting attention. 


Money Donated to Obama and Romney Campaigns as of 10/17/12

Fundraisers attended in the state since June by a major ticket candidate

Ad Money Spent since April

Visits by major ticket candidates (9/7-10/31)






New York























$19,000,000 *






















*Boston media market overlaps with southern New Hampshire, whose votes those ads are meant to sway; Eastern Illinois overlaps with the Davenport, Iowa media market

As we can see, eight out of the ten top donor states are receiving virtually no attention from the campaigns. The millions of dollars donated to the campaigns drew candidates to a select few wealthy voters in each state, while those states' middle and lower-income voters received no attention at all. While voters in Ohio of all economic situations have had 55 opportunities to see the presidential candidates in person and hear their speeches about issues important to them, the only chance an non-wealthy Alabama voter would have of catching a glimpse of a candidate in person would be to stand near the entrance of a fundraiser.

This is not to say that the states that donate the most money deserve to get the most campaign attention. But they do deserve to get more than none. Any attention, let alone attention proportional to their large population sizes, would be a vast improvement. It is wrong for candidates to travel all the way to these states and ignore all but their wealthiest citizens. States like New York and California may have seemingly endless donation coffers in places like the Manhattan and Malibu, and are therefore understandably fundraising targets, but the cruel logic of states' winner-take-all laws allows for candidates to ignore voters in Poughkeepsie (NY) and Compton (CA) without any fear of how it might affect their electoral prospects, and this is a problem. Voters in all states, of all economic backgrounds, deserve attention from presidential candidates; they shouldn't have to buy it. That's why FairVote expects more states to adopt the National Popular Vote plan in the coming years and hopes the new rule will govern the 2016  presidential election.