Unenthusiastic Voters Not Donating

The electorate is less alarmed than it was four years ago. Which is good!

There’s a weird report in POLITICO under the headline “‘Whistling past the graveyard’: Dem fear grows over massive grassroots fundraising hit.” It starts off with this:

One of the best online fundraising days for Democrats this year was the day of Joe Biden’s campaign launch — but even that day’s haul was meager compared to his campaign kickoff four years ago.

That’s among the findings of an analysis of fundraising for the first half of the year through ActBlue, the party’s primary donation processor. Small-dollar giving at the federal level totaled $312 million in the first half of 2023 — a drop-off of more than $30 million compared to this point in the 2020 cycle. The platform also had 32 percent fewer donors in the second quarter this year compared to four years prior, although its total fundraising including state and local campaigns increased slightly due to more recurring donors.

Comparing 2024 to 2020 makes little sense, though. In 2020, there was an incumbent, highly polarizing, Republican President and a wide-open race in the Democratic primaries to see who the party would run against him. In 2024, there’s an incumbent Democratic President being opposed for the nomination by a couple of nutjobs. Why would Democrats be contributing at comparable rates?

“Because small donors are a proxy for enthusiasm, if people aren’t concerned about the drop-off in contributions, then they just aren’t paying attention or whistling past the graveyard,” said Ari Rabin-Havt, who served as deputy campaign manager on Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign. “The impact is from top to bottom. You can see it in the ActBlue number, you can see it from the DNC down through every group. There has to be a quick examination among Democrats about what is creating this enthusiasm gap.”

Does there now? We’ve known for quite some time that Democrats are, in the main, not super enthusiastic about Joe Biden. Despite more or less doing what he was nominated to do—defeat Donald Trump and restore a sense of relative normalcy to American politics—huge swaths of his partisans are naturally disappointed that, despite having control of the White House and House of Representatives and nominal control of the Senate for two years, they haven’t gotten everything they wanted. This was inevitable.

The lack of grassroots engagement is a warning sign for Biden ahead of a tough election cycle, raising questions about whether the 80-year-old incumbent is exciting the Democratic base the way he will need to win a second term. The new data also suggests that the threat of Donald Trump, once a huge driver of Democratic fundraising, is not motivating donors like it used to.

Which is a good thing, no? Trump is no longer President and is bankrupting his campaign funds paying for multiple legal fights, some of them involving major felonies. He’s just not as scary as he was four years ago.

Still, I fully understand why ActBlue wants to gin up enthusiasm among the Democratic base. But this chart, appearing at this point in the POLITICO report, is, no pun intended, the elephant in the room:

For those not visually inclined, reporter Jessica Piper makes it explicit:

Online fundraising has been critical for Democrats over the last few cycles, allowing the party to keep control of the Senate in 2022 while powering Biden’s 2020 bid. The party still far outraised their Republican counterparts on the corresponding WinRed platform.

Granting that ActBlue (founded in 2004) is far better established than WinRed (2019), Democrats are massively out-fundraising Republicans. That, not an ostensible “massive grassroots fundraising hit,” would seem to be the more meaningful metric of enthusiasm.

There are several more paragraphs to the story but it just comes across as professional fundraisers whining that they’re having to lay off staff because they’re not getting their cut. Which, again, is a perfectly reasonable complaint from their perspective. But it sure as hell doesn’t portend a major problem for Democrats when they’re easily outpacing the opposition party. Especially when, again, the odds-on favorite for the GOP Presidential nomination is spending money on legal fees faster than he can raise it.

FILED UNDER: 2024 Election, US Politics, , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Sleeping Dog says:

    We’re in the silly season. There are millions of web pages that need fresh copy every minute to attract eyeballs. A good rule of thumb is to avoid headlines that include the words, could, may, possibly and other similar terms. Generally speculative BS.

  2. Scott says:

    Not a lot of reason to send money at this point if you’re a Democrat. You don’t even know who is running yet. Even if you do, you don’t have to donate through ActBlue or WinRed. You can go direct to the candidate.

  3. mattbernius says:

    Given we are more than a year away from the election and no one knows who the opponent will be, none of this should be surprising. And I expect that especially when the latter takes shape then things will change.

    But beasts need to be fed.

  4. inhumans99 says:

    The oddest thing for me to comment on, but I just noticed that you changed your thumbnail portrait James, and see you are now rocking a mustache. I am so used to the older picture in the About James Joyner section of each post.

    Okay, back on topic of the post, I think it is actually rather startling and should be much more alarming to the GOP that this far out from the election that their guy is burning through cash at such a rapid clip with no indication of when the money burn will stop.

    I agree the story is not that Democrats are raising only K2 piles of money vs Everest piles this far out from the election, but that it seems folks are confirming in on-line stories that most of the money Trump is burning through is coming from medium-small donors, and we are so far from November, 2024 that this burn-through pace just cannot continue as is, it has to slow itself down.

    For all the talk about the super wealthy and U.S. version of Oligarchs running the show (which I agree is most likely the case, but am not freaked out about it just yet, the super wealthy seem to see full on authoritarianism as bad for business, so wanna-be strongmen in the GOP get some pushback from the wealthy when they publicly say things that seem like they are getting ahead of their skis), they seem not to be dumping piles of cash onto Trump’s lap.

    They are seeing it with their own two eyes that Trump will just take the money and use it to try and stay out of jail, so why throw good money after bad.

    No guarantee that this means Biden will be our next President, but if I were a member of the GOP I would also start to wonder who might be next Republican President because no hairs are being raised on the back on my neck (and the same for a lot of other folks I would imagine) that Trump or DeSantis will be the next Commander In Chief.

    I may still not be fans of the alternates waiting in the wings to be the next President with an R in front of their title, but they do exist and the GOP really should start looking at alternates and doing a much better job of marginalizing Trump and DeSantis’s standings in the polls.

  5. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    Why would Democrats be contributing at comparable rates?

    Because there are ~469 other races nationally that Democrats would be wise to care about the outcomes of (not to mention state and local contests)?

    Just a suggestion you understand. Not telling Democrats how to run their political contributions.

  6. Jax says:

    If ActBlue would spam text and email me less, I might donate more. It’s annoying as hell.