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.