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Last presidential campaign saw unprecedented number of new donors, according to new study
Last presidential campaign saw unprecedented number of new donors, according to new studyMarch 10, 2006Jill Leonhardtjlleonha@maxwell.syr.edu
The 2004 election was a watershed in presidential campaign fundraising. Three or four times as many people contributed to the candidates in 2004 as in 2000, including an unprecedented number of small donors and Internet donors, according to a new report.
Grant Reeher, political science professor at the Maxwell School, co-authored the report, along with Joe Graf of the Institute for Politics, Democracy & the Internet (IPDI); Michael Malbin of the Campaign Finance Institute (CFI); and Costas Panagopoulos from Yale University. More than 1,500 donors were surveyed and three dozen interviewed at length for “Small Donors and Online Giving: A Study of Donors to the 2004 Presidential Campaigns.”
“There is a lot of good to be found in these results — more people participated, more ordinary people participated, and more avenues to participation were opened,” Reeher says. “In the absence of additional significant reforms of the campaign finance system, these are positive changes.” At the same time, he notes that in a larger sense the changes were not earth shattering — the candidates who were expected to raise the most money did, and, with the exception of Howard Dean, most of their totals came from expected groups. “The revolution came and no one got hurt,” he adds.
Reeher also notes that the Internet made contributing so easy that 40 percent of online donors gave money without first being approached by a campaign.
“This report dispels the notion that small donors are angrier and more partisan than big donors. They’re not. Small donors in the 2004 presidential election were good for American democracy,” Graf says.
Among the key findings:
- Economics: Small donors, not surprisingly, were not as rich as the major donors, who come from an elite socioeconomic slice of the population. While both sets of contributors grew in 2004, the small-donor increase meant greater participation by the middle class.
- First-timers and churning: The donor pool is far more fluid and changeable year to year than experts used to believe. This means much more unpredictability, and potential opportunity, for future campaigns.
- Unsolicited donors and the Internet: Nearly half of the online donors who gave $100 or less, and more than one-third of those who gave $500 or more, said they contributed without being asked. This compares to only about one-quarter of the offline donors.
- Internet empowerment and civic engagement: The Internet is leveling the playing field between large donors and small donors. Being online makes it easier for small donors to connect with others, find information and be politically active.
Online donors are more likely than offline donors to ask others for money. They were more politically active in other respects and more likely to ask others to support their candidate.
The influence of social events in campaign 2004 has been underestimated. One-quarter of all donors reported they attended a house party. One-quarter of donors who attended an event through Meetup.com said it helped motivate their first donation to a candidate.
The Internet and young donors: Nearly all young donors gave online (more than 80 percent). Giving online will be central to the future of campaign fundraising.
Small donors’ political views: While there has been concern that small donors may be more polarized or more extreme in their views than major donors, the report found that small donors were no more polarized or extreme in their views than people who gave large amounts of money.
The Joyce Foundation of Chicago, the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Reform Institute provided funding for the report.