DP17310 Small Campaign Donors

Author(s): Laurent Bouton, Julia Cagé, Edgard Dewitte, Vincent Pons
Publication Date: May 2022
Keyword(s): ActBlue, Campaign Contributions, Campaign finance, Small donations, TV advertising, WinRed
JEL(s): D72, M37, P16
Programme Areas: Political Economy
Link to this Page: cepr.org/active/publications/discussion_papers/dp.php?dpno=17310

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.