January 20, 2017

Is a candidate’s net worth a good predictor of success in an election?

“Money (That’s What I Want)”

The best things in life are free
But you can keep them for the birds and bees
Now give me money
That’s what I want
That’s what I want, yeah
That’s what I want


During the lull before the real campaigning begins, reporters and pundits focus on rumors, irrelevant candidate factoids, and whatever spin is being sold by the ever-present “anonymous sources.”

One of the more enjoyable pastimes is scouring the candidate’s finances to see who has what and where “what” comes from.

In his April blog post,  Ranking Every 2016 Presidential Candidate by Net Worth, InsideGov’s Ben Taylor shows us who the wealthiest and “poorest” candidates are. There were only a few surprises:

[table id=1 /]

I consider it a little ironic that far-left non-candidate Elizabeth Warren is worth almost $7 million. Another surprise is how small the net worth is for several GOP candidates. If a Republican has a net worth less than $5 million, does that mean they are failures as greedy capitalists and don’t deserve the nomination?

Missing from the list because he declared his candidacy only recently is Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. OpenSecret.org estimates his net worth as $460,506.

Then, of course, there’s Hillary. Her net worth is valued at $21 million or thereabouts. Keep in mind that these estimates include family wealth, so that in her case Bill Clinton’s earnings and property are included in the total. The $21 million actually seems rather low; some estimates go as high as $55 million. It is ironic, of course, that both Clinton’s had enormous legal bills to pay off, thanks to Republicans who sued and tried to impeach them for everything they did before, during, and after their stay in the White House. Drowning in red ink had turned both Clintons into highly successful entrepreneurs.

One angle from Ben Taylor’s article that I think he has wrong is his repeated assertion that having a net worth smaller than the opposition dooms a candidate to failure. So I went back and looked at the 2008 presidential campaign. Of the three major figures in that election — Obama, McCain, and Hillary — Obama had by far the lowest net worth.

There are other instances where the less wealthy candidate beat the wealthy candidate, e.g. Truman over Dewey, Bill Clinton over George HW Bush, Obama over McCain and Romney, etc. We can stop this money fetish and focus more on each candidate’s position on the issues and his/her character, however you want to define character. Yes, if there are curious funding sources or out-right illegalities, we should know about them. But we can stop fooling ourselves that a candidate’s net worth is a predictor of election success. It isn’t.

Here are a few financial factoids circa 2008 from CNN Money:





Published by

Frank Marafiote

Frank started the Hillary Clinton Quarterly in 1992 and has been "keeping up with Hillary" for more than 25 years. Recently retired, he worked in advertising and communications and also taught marketing courses several times a year for a local university.

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