Political Fundraising Headlines are Totally Misleading

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There are a lot of headlines out there about political fundraising, and none of them really give a clear picture of what’s going on. Fundraising is critically important to campaigns–maybe someday it won’t be, but for now it is–so let’s do a quick dive into the topic.

Read this collection of headlines about political fundraising from the last month or so and tell me which party you think is doing better:

The latest Senate fundraising numbers look good for Democrats
Democrats Lag Republicans in Fundraising Despite Anti-Trump Energy
Disappointing First-Quarter House Fundraising Alarms Republicans
Democrats crush House Republicans in fundraising
RNC raises record $13.9 million in March
Democrats are winning the 2018 fundraising war

So, what do you make of that? How are the Democrats doing? How about the Republicans? Hard to tell, right?

Headlines generally act as though “Democrats” or “Republicans” are a monolith. One giant umbrella under which all fundraising falls. But no, that’s not how this works. Most of these articles are reporting on the fundraising totals for the national committees, Senate committees, House committees, and/or individual candidates. They rarely do clean comparisons between the committees, and it is understandably hard to compare  fundraising reports for thousands of congressional candidates.

Let’s compare apples to apples. These are the reported first quarter (January – March) fundraising totals in 2018 for each of these Democratic organizations, side by side with their Republican counterpart:

Democratic National Committee (DNC) $23.6M
Republican National Committee (RNC) $41.4M

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) $31M
National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) $36M

Democratic Senate Campaign Committee (DSCC) $14M
National Republican Senate Committee (NRSC) $16.4M

Right about now you’re noticing that each of these 3 Democratic committees got out raised by their Republican counterparts this past quarter. So why all the cheery headlines about Democratic fundraising?

A trend we’ve been seeing is that Democratic candidates are out raising their Republican opponents. To make sense of the many, many candidates that are running, articles will often compare a subset of candidates, often what they deem are “races to watch.” For example, in the article Democrats House Candidates Hold Fundraising Edge After 1st Quarter, the author points out that Democratic candidates out raised Republican candidates in 49 of the 88 House campaigns. Of course, you know that there are 435 House seats up for re-election. Just looking at 88 of them is instructive, but hardly comprehensive.

Let’s look at one more headline up close. That first headline up there about the Democrats looking good with Senate fundraising? Are they talking about the DSCC or individual Democrats running for the Senate? In this case, it’s the latter, and yeah, 9 out of 10 Democratic candidates out raised their opponent.

So, the next time you see a headline about fundraising, make sure you know what they’re talking about. The Senate? The House? A national committee? Individual candidates? Once you find that out, you’re in better shape to share that important information with some badly needed context.

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Categories: Explainers

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