Labor Day signals the beginning of the fall campaign for both political candidates and the consultants whom they pay hundreds of millions of dollars to help them win in November. Will these hired guns be held accountable for their performance on Election Day?
The experience of John McLaughlin, the pollster for the former House majority leader, Eric Cantor of Virginia, suggests that the consequences of consultant failure are often minimal. As the Washington Post’s Ben Terris noted, Mr. McLaughlin was “historically wrong” about Mr. Cantor’s defeat in a June primary, missing the final margin by approximately 45 percentage points, but hasn’t lost any clients as a result.
A closer look at the research on political consultants suggests that Mr. McLaughlin’s experience is typical. Firm reputations and client relationships are highly consistent over time and show little responsiveness to results, particularly in terms of the share of the vote that a client receives, a much more informative metric than wins and losses.