Small Campaign Donors
We study the characteristics and behavior of small campaign donors and compare them to large donors by building a dataset including all the 340 million individual contributions reported to the U.S. Federal Election Commission between 2005 and 2020. Thanks to the reporting requirements of online fundraising platforms first used by Democrats (ActBlue) and now Republicans (WinRed), we observe contribution-level information on the vast majority of small donations. We first show that the number of small donors (donors who do not give more than $200 to any committee during a two-year electoral cycle) and their total contributions have been growing rapidly. Second, small donors include more women and more ethnic minorities than large donors, but their geographical distribution does not differ much. Third, using a saturated fixed effects model, we find that race closeness, candidate ideological extremeness, whether candidates and donors live in the same district or state, and whether they have the same ethnicity increase contributions, with lower effects for small donors. Finally, we show that campaign TV ads affect the number and size of contributions to congressional candidates, particularly for small donors, indicating that pull factors are relevant to explain their behavior.
We gratefully acknowledge helpful comments and suggestions from seminar participants at New York University, Princeton University, Sciences Po Paris, the Joint-School Online Political Economy Seminar, and UC Berkeley (Research Workshop on American Politics). Circé Maillet, Juan Margitic, Vincent Rollet, Evan Soltas, and JJ Naddeo provided outstanding research assistance. We are grateful to Jörg Spenkuch and David Toniatti for their help with using the code and TV ad data from Spenkuch and Toniatti (2018). We are grateful to Michael Bailey for generously sharing his data on candidate ideology with us. The research leading to this project has received funding from the European Research Council under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (Grant Agreement no. 948516). All errors remain our own. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.
I am the cofounder of eXplain, a company in Europe.