Nearly $7 billion went to federal election candidates during the 2020 campaign cycle from millions of donors. The increasingly popular ActBlue and WinRed fundraising platforms have made small-dollar donation data public, allowing us to understand much better than in previous cycles not only where money is going, but also who it is coming from.
More of that money than ever is coming in the form of small-dollar donations and many of those donors are contributing to multiple campaigns. By looking at where donors' money has overlapped, we can better understand overlaps in support between candidates who will never share a ballot and may never share voting records in congress.
Here, all candidates above a minimum number of donors are displayed. Links are added between candidates with high donor overlap, creating natural clusters between and within parties.
Note than on the Republican side, every candidate above the minimum donor threshold is linked to President Trump. While the majority of Democratic campaigns are linked to Vice President Joe Biden's campaign, progressives on the left wing of the Democratic Party form a somewhat separate cluster centered around Sen. Bernie Sanders, with a few candidates such as Rep. Ayanna Pressley and Sen. Ed Markey forming a bridge between the two clusters.
Visualization by Sam Learner | | |
Contribution data runs through 10/15/2020.
Unique donors are determined using a combination of first name, last name and zipcode. This creates the possibility of both false positives (two Jane Smiths in the same zipcode) and false negatives (Jonathan Smith sometimes donates as Jon Smith, or Jon Smith moves homes during the election cycle). Others who have worked with donor data sometimes require a matching employer name as well. This drastically lowers the chance of a false positive (it's very unlikely that there are two Jane Smiths living in the same zipcode with the same employer), but creates many more false negatives (Jon Smith might change jobs mid-election cycle or he might mark his employer as "Smith High School" on one donation and "Smith H.S." on another). On balance requiring a matching employer felt like too stringent of a requirement that would lead to missing too many donor overlaps. As it is, the analysis very likely underrepresents the amount of overlap due to false negatives, but it misses them uniformly, across candidates.
The use of the WinRed fundraising platform among Republican candidates is relatively new and still less prevalent than the ActBlue platform among Democratic candidates. Since much of the small donor ( <$200) data comes from the platforms' filings, GOP candidates generally have fewer identified donors than Democratic candidates. Even among candidates who have adopted these platforms, many small transactions take place outside and the campaigns are only required to report contributions from donors who give more at least $200 in aggregate. This means we don't have a true donor count for any campaign, but we can generally get much closer for Democratic ones.