Sunday, September 26, 2021

Should a candidate's funding affect my vote?

“Should you vote for a candidate who has big money backing her and might be able to get things done even though you don’t agree with everything on her platform?” asks a reader from Boston we’re calling Polly.

Polly emailed me shortly after Boston’s mayoral primary election in which voters were charged with narrowing the field of five candidates to two. After the votes were counted, Michelle Wu and Anissa Essaibi George were the top vote-getters who will face off in November to become Boston’s first elected woman mayor. Kim Janey was Boston’s first woman mayor, but she wasn’t elected to the position. She assumed the seat vacated by Marty Walsh when he was picked as Labor Secretary by President Joe Biden.

It’s neither my place nor my job to tell someone how to vote. I do have strong feelings, however, that everyone who is eligible to vote should vote. Too often elections are decided by embarrassingly low turnouts. In the mayoral primary election in Boston, one in which an incumbent wasn’t running, only 24.58% of eligible voters, 107,592 people, showed up. The city had set up early voting polling stations and permitted mail-in voting to enable those who couldn’t get to the polls on a Tuesday to vote at their convenience. Still, few showed up to help decide who would run their city and affect their day-to-day lives for the next several years. Voters show up a bit better during presidential elections. In 2020, almost two-thirds of eligible voters voted. Still, one-third of eligible voters decided not to.

But Polly asks an interesting question. Increasingly if the thinking is that a politician needs substantial financial backing to get anything done, does it make sense to go with the better funded candidate over the one you truly would like to see hold office? Some, of course, depends on what things Polly doesn’t agree with on the better-funded candidate’s platform. If Polly is adamantly opposed to some views or policy proposals, whether that candidate has more money backing her shouldn’t sway her vote.

Some of Polly’s question, however, points to a distinction between running for an office and governing once in office. Granted, the shift from campaigning to governing might often seem not to happen when some politicians increasingly are in full campaign mode even while holding office. But the money behind a candidate’s campaign does not necessarily translate into that candidate being more likely to get things done once she is elected.

A lack of funding might lessen a candidate’s ability to get word out about her campaign or to build a strong campaign staff. Whether one candidate is better funded than another doesn’t change how strongly that candidate’s views align with Polly or other voters.

The right thing is for Polly to decide which candidate she believes can do the best job in office, fight for the same issues Polly holds dear, and seems best to represent the values Polly finds important. Then, even more importantly, Polly should show up to vote in November, and so should the rest of the eligible voters in her city.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of, a blog focused on ethical issues.

Do you have ethical questions that you need to have answered? Send them to

Follow him on Twitter @jseglin.


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