Emergent democracy and money politics

Adina writes about emergent democracy and political fundraising.

It’s important to remember that fundraising is a means to an end for politicians. The end is buying votes.

What happens when people organize in opposition to a politician, either through modern means or traditional ones?

My first response was “each vote gets more expensive.” That is, the politician needs to work harder to get enough votes to win. Strong opposition to money-grubbing politicians could simply result in more money-grubbing. This nicely accords with the wisdom that, in a crisis, creatures do what they’re accustomed to doing, only moreso.

On further reflection, though, I’m not sure if that’s how it would work. If the opposition can be neatly compartmentalized and seems to be monolithic within that pigeonhole, the politician might logically reason “well, I’m not going to bother trying to reach group X. I’ll save my energies for groups Y and Z.” In which case, the opposition could be doing the politician a favor, by allowing him to target his message more accurately. He’d get more bang for his buck.

If the opposition appears to be very broad-based or the race is very tight, only then would a politician respond “Damn those Xists, I need their votes, I’m going to have to throw them a bone.” I wonder how often this would actually happen. If a politician came out against pie, the “pie is good” coalition would certainly be broad-based. Anything short of that, and I expect opinions would be more fragmentary.

Of course, a politician’s strategy team could make mistakes: it could read the opposition as being broader or narrower than it really is, in which case it would pick the wrong strategy. The trick here for any opposition would be to appear as broad as possible (which is generally true anyhow).

That’s how things look from the politician’s perspective. How do they look from the public’s perspective? Organizing can have a polarizing effect: it can help people crystallize their opinions and causes opposition groups to accrete. But this works both ways: can also cause the other side to organize and work harder.