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Rise in Online Fundraising Changed Face of Campaign Donors

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By Thomas B. Edsall
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 6, 2006

The surging number of campaign contributors in 2004, especially the small donors who gave online, changed the character of one of the most important constituencies in U.S. politics, the people who finance presidential elections. This key group has become more reflective of the middle class, has a higher percentage of women and is far more willing to contribute without being directly solicited.

The new small donors, who played a much bigger role in 2004 than in the past, are polarized on ideological, cultural and economic issues in much the same way that large givers are, according to a survey by the Institute for Politics, Democracy & the Internet at George Washington University of all donors, both those using the Internet and those who did not.

"The presidential campaign of 2004 was a watershed moment in political fundraising because of the convergence of a new regulatory regime, a bitterly fought campaign and closely divided electorate, and the increasing sophistication of Internet technology," wrote Joseph Graf, project director of the institute, and three colleagues.

Among the major findings in the 64-page report are:

· The Internet is perhaps the single most important development in political fundraising, and Democrats appear to have taken better advantage of it than Republicans. More than half of Democrats gave online, more than double the percentage of Republicans. More than 80 percent of the contributions by people ages 18 to 34 were made online. Almost half of all small, online donors gave without being asked first by the campaigns.

· Financial supporters of Democrat John F. Kerry were motivated by their animosity to President Bush in much larger numbers than Bush contributors were driven by dislike of Kerry. "The most frequent unsolicited comments in personal interviews with Democrats concerned animosity toward President Bush. . . . Bush donors liked their candidate more than Kerry donors."

· The universe of donors is fluid and changes markedly from election to election. One of the findings most surprising to the authors of the study was that only 31 percent of people who gave the $1,000 maximum to Bush in 2000, including those who made non-Internet donations, contributed in 2004.

· Among all donors, the differences between Republicans and Democrats on such issues as taxes, same-sex marriage and privatization of Social Security are enormous, much larger than in the general public.


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