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Live Mic: Why is the cost of running for president a king’s ransom?

FILE: Democratic nominee Joe Biden and President Donald Trump. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY — With the cost of running for the presidency including staff, airfare and advertising — as well as the relatively new media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube — the vast reaches of riches needed to wage a presidential race just keep rising.

In the 2012 election, President Obama spent $722.4 million to win re-election. The Democratic National Committee (DNC) added $292.2 million, while PAC spending for Obama totaled $131.7 million, making the total spent to re-elect the president $1.14 billion, according to Investopedia.

Eight years later, so far during the 2020 presidential campaign, Democratic candidate Joe Biden and the DNC have raised $990 million, spent $770 million, and had $266 million cash on hand at the end of August.

Meanwhile, Republican President Donald Trump and the RNC have raised $1.33 billion, spent $1.13 billion and have $236 million cash on hand, according to a NPR report published Sept. 20, 2020.

Why so expensive?

Damon Cann, a political science professor at Utah State University, joined KSL host Lee Lonsberry on his program, Live Mic with Lee Lonsberry, to talk about the escalating cost to run for office.

“Where does that money get spent exactly?” Lee asked.

Cann said 20 to 30 years ago a candidate spent money on TV, radio and newspaper ads and mailings. Today, what a candidate spends must also include the cost of new media like social networking sites, YouTube, and other digital platforms. With that new outreach, more staffing is required, which means more money is needed.

Microtargeting voters

“The other change in campaigning we have seen in the last couple of decades is a buzzword in politics: microtargeting,” Cann said. 

Microtargeting is a marketing strategy that uses consumer data and demographics to identify the interests of specific individuals or very small groups of like-minded individuals and then influence their thoughts and actions such as voting, according to

“These days a lot of us are thinking about data security and privacy more and more,” Cann said. “With every click of a mouse or every product we order online, there are people out there who are amassing information about us. That information often correlates with our political preferences and political interests. 

“A campaign has to purchase data. They have to hire number crunchers. They have to hone the right messages to correspond to the right set of individuals, “Cann said. “And then they have to pay to have that message delivered.

“Targeting in that way, as you can see, is going to be a lot more expensive than running the same television ad everywhere across the United States.”

Live Mic with Lee Lonsberry can be heard weekdays from 12:30 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app.