North Dakota Senate 2012 - Spending over time

Today’s post focuses on all election related spending over time. There are seven charts that summarize both the campaign and independent expenditures recorded in the 2012 US Senate election in North Dakota. Let’s get to it.

The first two charts present the independent expenditures for each candidate, overlaying supporting and opposition disclosures. 

The fourth and fifth charts display the campaign disbursements for each candidate. 

Chart five simply overlays the campaign spending for each candidate for comparison. 

Chart six presents the total ‘supporting’ expenditures for each candidate - as with previous posts, total 'supporting’ expenditures include campaign disbursements and independent expenditures supporting the specific candidate and opposing his/her rival. 

The final chart below shows the results of four polls conducted for the North Dakota race in from May 2012 onward. 

The seven polling results displayed in the chart above were taken by Forum/Essman, Mason-Dixon, Rasmussen, Mas0n-Dixon, Forum/Essman, Rasmussen and Mason-Dixon, looking left to right. As we’ve stated before, it is important to remember that these polls have their own biases and shortcomings that undoubtedly distort their accuracy. Keeping that in mind, we can see that Berg was leading in the polls in early May, throughout the latter summer and again at the end moments of October.

What do these charts tell us about the North Dakota Senate election? It is nearly impossible to make anything other than basic inferences without more detailed data on the expenditures and more public opinion data.  

Looking at the polling, despite some fluctuations, Berg held a lead in four of the last five polls. The Berg campaign spent more money early than Heitkamp. Overall, the Berg campaign outspent the Heitkamp campaign, but pro-Heitkamp forces collectively spent more than their counterparts and targeted Berg with a larger amount of opposition independent expenditures. Most independent groups began spending more heavily in September with both campaigns boosting their already heavy spending in late September/October.  Just like the US Senate election in Nebraska, the candidate receiving the most ‘supporting’ expenditures overall won the election.

We will continue to explore the spending data for 2012 elections to attempt to contextualize some of what we think we know about the impact of money in elections. The data above does not provide any answers about whether or not money affects elections, but it offers some food for thought as we take this series forward next week.

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North Dakota Senate 2012: Public-facing Cash

Today’s post on the 2012 US Senate election in North Dakota focuses again on independent expenditures. Instead of lumping all independent expenditures together or just sorting them by general type (media-related, consulting, equipment, etc.), the charts below include only the independent expenditures that went toward public-facing purchases. Examples of these types of purchases are, ads (TV/radio/web/etc.), direct mailing and phone calls, signage and canvassing.     

Public facing expenditures, in size and frequency, increase as election day approaches. Opposition expenditures appear before the supporting cash. The bulk of the supporting cash is disbursed between mid-August and early October. It is important to remember two broad factors when looking at the crude data in this post.

  1. Just because an ad buy was purchased/disclosed on a certain day it does not necessarily mean that the specific ad immediately hit the airwaves. This time-lag issue is influenced by the second factor…
  2. The price of media buys are not static. As election day nears, more and more airtime is purchased and, logically, the price for the remaining slots rises. The price for the two back-to-back TV slots in late October, for example, will fluctuate depending on when each were purchased.

These factors do not mean that in this regard the FEC data is meaningless, but this is a significant limitation of the FEC disclosure system.

The next chart displays the above expenditures sorted into two groups for greater clarity. 

Pro-Heitkamp expenditures dominated most of the pro-Berg disclosures, with the groups disclosing $7.9MM and $6.7MM in public-facing expenditures respectively. 

North Dakota Senate 2012 - Money & Votes

The contest for the US Senate in North Dakota is the 2012 election we will cover this week. Republican Rick Berg and Democratic candidate Heidi Heitkamp squared off in the general election this past November. Berg and Heitkamp ran to fill the seat vacated by four-term Senator Kent Conrad (D). Both Berg and Heitkamp were prominent figures in state-wide politics prior to 2012 with each holding elected office. In 2010, Berg jumped to the national level by winning the US House election for the at-large congressional district in North Dakota.

As was the case last week, this Cash and Votes post will present some basic information from the election that we will further explore throughout the week.  Below is the expenditure breakdown for each candidate. All disbursement and expenditure data is from the Federal Election Commission disclosure portal.


The two heavy spending categories for this contest were campaign disbursements and opposition independent expenditures.  The Berg campaign spent about $800K more than the Heitkamp camp, but pro-Heitkamp independent expenditure groups disclosed approximately $1.5M more in opposition spending than the pro-Berg forces. Pro-Berg independent expenditure groups nearly doubled the efforts of their counterparts to support their candidate of choice. 

This contest was very very close. Berg collected 49.54% of the vote. Heitkamp received 50.46%, winning the election by a slim 2,934 vote margin. Berg had a relatively consistent edge in the public polls. The chart below has a breakdown of the public polling data available on Real Clear PoliticsThe 7 polling results displayed in the chart were taken by Forum/Essman, Mason-Dixon, Rasmussen, Mas0n-Dixon, Forum/Essman, Rasmussen and Mason-Dixon, looking left to right. Remember, these polls have their own biases and shortcomings that undoubtedly distort their accuracy. Despite that fact, we can see that Berg was leading in the polls throughout the latter summer and again at the end moments of October. Not only was the ballot box neck-and-neck, the total campaign spending picture was close as well.

The chart above displays the “total supporting expenditures” received by each candidate. “Total "supporting expenditures” includes a candidate’s campaign cash, independent expenditures made in support of that candidate and those made in opposition of their rival. Berg had a very slight edge in total financial support receiving nearly $14.1MM besting Heitkamp’s $13.9MM of supporting cash. 

The final chart in today’s post includes a breakdown of spending type per vote.  Looking left to right, the first bar is the campaign disbursements per vote, then supporting outside cash, then third the “total supporting expenditures” aggregate figure. As Berg spent slightly more, but received slightly fewer votes, the Berg campaign and pro-Berg forces spent slightly more cash per vote than Heitkamp.  

So, what do we know? Again, not much at this level.  Like the Senate election in Nebraska, the campaign with the most cash also experienced more opposition expenditures. Berg and Heitkamp spending was relatively even across the board. Did the spending parity contribute to the very close result on election day? 

In the upcoming posts on this election we will look further into the campaign finance picture by looking at disbursements / expenditures over time as well as the major outside money contributors to this race.