As Mitt Romney's campaign fundraising gathers steam, boosted by huge contributions to allied groups, President Barack Obama is unexpectedly struggling to keep pace — and he may be having the hardest time in the mountainous west, where moderate Democrats have made deep inroads in recent years.
As BuzzFeed reported last week, 88% of donors who gave $200 or more to Obama in 2008 have yet to give that amount to his campaign this cycle.
A deeper analysis of campaign finance data shows that the west has seen an especially high level of drop off in Obama donors. Oregon topped the list with a 91% decrease in donors giving at least $200—the amount required for contributions to be individually reported—and Colorado, Nevada, and Idaho were close behind.
Vermont, Maine, and Michigan saw donors remaining most loyal to Obama, and showed the lowest percentage decrease.
Three of the high drop off states — Oregon, Nevada, and Colorado — went for Obama in the 2008 election, Oregon is expected to do so again this November. Idaho is solidly red, while Colorado and Nevada, with their respective 9 and 6 electoral votes, remain crucial battlegrounds.
Democratic consultants and political scientists offered a range of theories for the drop-off in donors in a region with libertarian leanings and moderate instincts, relatively few African-Americans, and pockets of progressive politics.
Richard Skinner, an assistant professor of political science at the New College of Florida, noted that the Pacific Northwest has traditionally been a stronghold of the progressive movement, many of whose adherents hoped for a far more combative, liberal Obama embrace of policies like single-payer health care.
“Maybe more so than in other parts of the country, you have strongly liberal views and a dislike of politics as usual,” Skinner said. “Donors in those states would be probably even more inclined to be sort of idealistic donors — people who are motivated by purist views on issues, people who are uncomfortable with compromise.”
In the case of Oregon, one of the issues that inspired voters to put money behind Obama in 2008 was getting American troops away from combat. That urgency has now faded. “Oregon was the most virulently anti-war states during the Iraq war,” said Jake Weigler, director of Oregon Communications at Strategies 360, a strategic communications firm. “That was a powerful motivator during the 2008 election. It may not be as powerful a one now.”
In Colorado, which has long been focused on environmental and energy policy, the enthusiasm gap amongst donors may be related to Obama’s lack of progress on his environmental agenda, said John Straayer, a professor of political science at Colorado State University.
The state also saw a surge in independents and young, college-educated voters were drawn into politics by Obama's 2008 campaign.
“They’re probably more likely to be disappointed in that they don’t have as much experience in the political process,” said Robert Duffy, a professor of political science at Colorado State University, in reference to young or independent voters.
Tough economic circumstances may also underlie some Western donors’ reluctance to contribute to Obama’s re-election campaign. Nevada, in particular, was hit hard by the housing market's collapse in 2008, and now suffers from a staggering 11.7% unemployment rate in April. But the rough economic conditions were cited by donors around the country in interviews with BuzzFeed as a reason they hadn't given to Obama again this cycle.
“I don’t think the money has gone someplace else,” said Paul Berendt, Senior Vice President of Strategies 360 and former chairman of the Washington State Democratic Party.“It’s really that people don’t have as much money to spend on politics.”
(With data analysis by Ky Harlin.)