On New Year’s Day, the Sanders campaign announced that it had achieved a record-breaking 5 million individual donations in 2019. No other candidate in history has had as many contributors at this point in the election season. There is no longer room for doubt about the Vermont Senator’s “electability.” Sanders’ strong finish in the fourth quarter clearly shows he has what it takes to win against Trump in November
Pre-nomination fundraising predicts the victor of the general election roughly two-thirds of the time. Of the 11 elections since 1976, the candidate who raised the most before the primary won seven, according to figures from the Campaign Finance Institute. In most of the instances when it failed to prefigure the winner, such as both of Bill Clinton’s elections, the fundraising totals were relatively close. Incumbent George H.W. Bush only bested Clinton by a paltry $400,000.
The 2016 election was a major outlier. Hillary Clinton lost despite out-fundraising her opponent nearly 3-to-1 before the primary . A closer look at the numbers shows why Sanders is the best positioned to take on Trump this time around.
Often it’s a brazen display of bad faith when parallels are drawn between the far-right president and the socialist senator, but the two are alike in at least one sense: Both are popular with small-dollar donors.
Before he secured the nomination, Trump had barely raised money at all. About half of his campaign was self-financed at that point. However, of the money he did raise from individual contributors before June 30, donations of less than $200 comprised 63 percent. Once he got help from the Republican fundraising apparatus he was able to nearly close the gap, and by election day small-dollar donors accounted for 69 percent of his total receipts.
Having a broad base of grassroots support no doubt played a role in Trump’s victory, and Sanders is the only Democratic candidate who is comparable in this regard. In the most recent quarter for which data is available, donations to Sanders averaged around $18, while small donors account for nearly 60 percent of his current fundraising total.
The actual dollar amounts are less important compared to what Sanders’ fundraising accomplishments represent: enthusiasm.
Political scientists broadly divide modern campaigning into two eras : labor-intensive and capital-intensive. Early mass political campaigns were characterized as the former. Party machines focused on rounding up warm bodies for electioneering. But with the advent of the mass media age, money became the primary factor.
The pendulum appears to be swinging back the other way. More and more people are ditching cable for streaming services, which means the days of campaigns shelling out millions on ad buys are numbered. Today’s elections are enthusiasm-intensive.
With the rise of so-called cord-cutters, it’s increasingly important to reach voters through means that are more traditional—canvassing, phone banking—and others that are less so, such as social media. Sanders’ large and fired-up base gives him an advantage in both regards.
The willingness of so many people to give Sanders their money is also a strong indicator of how many might commit their time to his campaign. As early as February 2019, 1 million had already signed up to volunteer and by August, they had collectively put on more than 11,000 events nationwide.
“Electability” is just a centrist version of the fabled “purity test” leftists are often accused of imposing on moderates. The idea is that we can’t push the envelope too hard lest we offend the sensibilities of the electorate with such radical ideas as not being bankrupted by medical debt.
In terms of the literal meaning of the word, i.e. the ability to get elected, Sanders has a better case than anyone. Appealing to swing voters and so-called “sensible” Republicans—Ken Bone, the National Review editorial board and the narrow sliver of voters who think Michael Bloomberg would make a good president—is a failed strategy.
It’s no longer about peeling off voters from the opposing side. The name of the game now is firing up the base and getting as many of your supporters to the polls on election day.
Sanders’ campaign has the passion, the infrastructure and the money to win. At this point, saying he’s “unelectable” is either delusional or a bald-faced lie.