Mapping the polymorphisms responsible for variation in gene expression, known as Expression Quantitative Trait Loci (eQTL), is a common strategy for investigating the molecular basis of disease. Despite numerous eQTL studies, the relationship between the explanatory power of variants on gene expression versus their power to explain ultimate phenotypes remains to be clarified. We addressed this question using four naturally occurring Quantitative Trait Nucleotides (QTN) in three transcription factors that affect sporulation efficiency in wild strains of the yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae. We compared the ability of these QTN to explain the variation in both gene expression and sporulation efficiency. We find that the amount of gene expression variation explained by the sporulation QTN is not predictive of the amount of phenotypic variation explained. The QTN are responsible for 98% of the phenotypic variation in our strains but the median gene expression variation explained is only 49%. The alleles that are responsible for most of the variation in sporulation efficiency do not explain most of the variation in gene expression. The balance between the main effects and gene-gene interactions on gene expression variation is not the same as on sporulation efficiency. Finally, we show that nucleotide variants in the same transcription factor explain the expression variation of different sets of target genes depending on whether the variant alters the level or activity of the transcription factor. Our results suggest that a subset of gene expression changes may be more predictive of ultimate phenotypes than the number of genes affected or the total fraction of variation in gene expression variation explained by causative variants, and that the downstream phenotype is buffered against variation in the gene expression network.