Patterico's Pontifications

11/20/2011

What Fundraising Matters?

Filed under: 2012 Election — Karl @ 8:59 am

[Posted by Karl]

If the establishment media is reporting on campaign fundraising, it’s a fair bet they will be misreporting or burying the lede.  For example, the WaPo:

Even with low approval ratings and an uncertain path to reelection, President Obama is exceeding expectations in one area: His campaign is doing far better at attracting grass-roots financial support this year than his Republican rivals or his own historic effort in 2008, according to new contribution data.

***

A Washington Post analysis shows that nearly half of his campaign contributions, and a quarter of the money he has raised for the Democratic Party, has come from donors giving less than $200. That’s much higher than it was in 2008 and far beyond what the best-funded Republicans have managed.

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But relying on donors of modest means could limit the fundraising ability of the president, whose campaign is already showing signs that it is struggling to bring in big donations. Fewer than 6,000 contributors had given Obama $2,500 or more through September.

Stories like this perpetuate the myth that Obama’s 2008 campaign was fueled by small donors, when his percentage from small donors was about the same as Bush in 2004.  Obama’s percentage in 2007 was about the same; non-incumbents generally rely on large donors until later in the cycle, when they are more visible and voters have a better sense of their electability.

 The WaPo is at least more accurate than the New York Times and other outlets claiming Obama was having problems with small donors by improperly comparing  those who have donated to Obama’s 2012 campaign so far with those who donated through the entirety of the 2008 campaign.

But the WaPo theme about problems with big donors is a misfire.  The Associated Press has similarly claimed Obama has lost early support from major donors, but as Stanford University political scientist Adam Bonica notes, “large contributions signal more about how much time and effort Obama is putting into big-ticket fundraising events.” 

Conversely, Obama’s showing with small donors reflects his campaign’s intensive efforts to enlist them, as well as its social pressure on those who gave in 2008 to kick in before the Q3 deadline.  Was this done simply to advance a campaign narrative of support from the little people?  Probably not. 

First, small donors can be solicited repeatedly and become mid-size or large donors.  This is more likely the sooner they start donating.   The WaPo quotes Katherine Hahn, a self-described “mom and artist” from Colorado who gives Obama $25 a month.  If she continues donating each month, she will end up a mid-size donor.

Second, consider this quote from Obama campaign manager Jim Messina, buried in the middle of the WaPo piece: “Our experience is that people who give become volunteers, and people who volunteer become donors. We want to build a relationship with them.”  The first clause is the key — donors become volunteers.  In the key state of Colorado, the 2008 vote may have depended on taking the Starbucks approach to the campaign. In eleven battleground states political scientist Seth Masket examined, Obama established field offices in 43% of the counties; McCain did so in only 18% — with apparent dividends for Obama not only in Colorado, but also Florida, Indiana, and North Carolina, for a total of 53 electoral votes.  Obama is investing early and often in his ground operations; his campaign’s early focus on recruiting small donors — and potential volunteers — feeds that effort.

–Karl


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