The 2008 donors who haven't returned to President Obama are disproportionately centrists and very liberal Democrats, while regular Democrats have stuck by the president, according to a new analysis of campaign finance data.
The analysis, by Stanford political scientist Adam Bonica, matches and deepens a BuzzFeed finding that roughly 90% of those who gave more than $200 to Obama haven't returned, a mark of the disillusionment among some of his early supporters and of his ongoing struggle — despite the advantages of organization and incumbency — to keep even with his 2008 fundraising totals.
"The 2008 donors who were most likely to give again in 2012 are those with ideological scores most similar to Obama's, whereas moderate-to-conservative donors and those on far left are significantly less likely to re-up,” Bonica said.
Bonica's model is based on a large swathe of publicly available campaign finance data. He examined all of Obama's $200-plus individual donors from 2008 and 2012, as reported to the Federal Election Commission. He then gave each contributor an ideological "score" based on his or her past political donations, with -2 being the most liberal and 2 being the most conservative. Once each of Obama's contributors had an ideological score, Bonica divided them into new, returning, and drop off donors before plotting them on comparative ideological graphs.
The story of Obama's failure to impress the ideological progressives who had hoped he'd pass single-payer health care and battle Republicans, is a familiar story. But Bonica's research suggests the degree to which conservative criticism has also eaten into Obama's core support, leaving the president fighting a two-front battle.
Bonica said he was surprised by the finding.
“Initially my expectation was that Obama’s donors were going to be more moderate in 2012 than they were in 2008,” Bonica said.
But the collapse onon both sides of the ideological spectrum makes sense, Bonica said, when thought of in the context of a candidate whose political record was as sparse as Obama’s was when he ran in 2008.
“Donors have had several years to learn about Obama's policy preferences through his initiatives and statements, which has eliminated a lot of the uncertainty about where Obama stands,” he said, adding that Obama’s current donor drop off pattern is similar to that of George W. Bush in 2004.
Only 11% of these drop off donors have given to another political group or candidate this cycle. This low percentage suggests that Obama’s drop off donors from 2008 aren’t so much switching allegiances as they are removing themselves from the political process.
“Obama's drop off looks to be more dramatic than other presidents, but that’s mostly a function of him having raised from an incredible number of people in 2008 — people who you usually wouldn't have expected to give to a Democratic presidential candidate,” Bonica said.