One of the downsides to America’s interminable presidential elections is that, for those who really like politics, there are months spent poring over the same little data points looking for little tweaks and burbles that might augur some shift in where things are headed. It’s admittedly not terribly important to know who will win an election before the election is held unless you have some reason for needing to know (lobbyists, etc.), but for some of us it’s an unavoidable mental condition. I want to know where this thing is headed, but like watching a rocket leave the launchpad, I’m not getting a whole lot of information to work with.
We are getting some information. And, if not predictive, it does tell us a bit about how the 2020 contest is shaking out. Not a lot, mind you, but enough perhaps to tide you over until tomorrow.
Last month, the Federal Election Commission released data on first-quarter fundraising among 2020 candidates, both President Trump and those who were already seeking the Democratic nomination to challenge him. Out of curiosity, we took those numbers, aggregated totals by Zip code and mapped them. But instead of simply mapping who was getting money from where, we decided to map where one candidate was outperforming another.
The overview looks like this. Circles on all of the graphs below are scaled to the total amount raised by the leading campaign committee in the county relative to the next-best-performing campaign.
Unsurprisingly, candidates often outperform in places that they represent.
There’s an important point to be made about the data we’re using. Only some contributions are reportable to the FEC; small-dollar contributions often aren’t. That means that we generally have data on larger contributions only. That will be important later in this conversation.
So. The map above is interesting, but we can get a little more insight by considering candidates against one another. So let’s compare Trump with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). Zip codes where Trump got more are shown in red circles; Zip codes where Sanders did better are in blue. (The Trump campaign committee on this map is the campaign itself, not one of the joint fundraising ventures with the Republican Party.)
We’ve highlighted three interesting regions.
SF. In the San Francisco Bay area, Sanders easily bet Trump in nearly every Zip code.
MW. In the Midwest, Sanders tended to outperform Trump mostly in urban areas. Trump raised significant money in some Ohio Zip codes.
FL. But it’s nothing compared to his dominance in Florida, where Trump raised a lot of money in a number of Zip codes relative to Sanders. There’s a similar pattern in Texas, where Sanders’s performance in cities is more noticeable.
A key point worth remembering: Trump was a candidate for the entire time. Sanders wasn’t.
Another interesting comparison pits Sanders against Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.).
A key point here is that in places where Harris outraised Sanders, she did so by a wide margin. This, in part, comes back to the point about which contributions were reportable. Many of Sanders donors gave smaller amounts. His lead in the money race came from the number of people who were giving. (This reliance on smaller donors is also why his footprint on the first map above is relatively modest.)
We’ve highlighted two areas where Harris outraised Sanders. The first is parts of California (CA), where Harris’s existing networks no doubt helped her bring in contributions. The other is the Acela corridor (AC), the stretch from Boston through New York to the District of Columbia. There, too, Harris brought in big chunks of money.
The regional differences you can see in the first map are shown starkly when we compare Harris directly to former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke.
Harris cleaned up in California (CA). O’Rourke did well in Texas (TX), particularly in the western part of the state, where he’s from. But Harris did much better in other places on the map, as she did against Sanders.
This doesn’t tell us who will win the presidency next year. It doesn’t even tell us much about who will win the Democratic nomination. It does, however, tell us a bit about giving patterns. Sanders got a lot of small money. Harris appears to have a broader national reach than O’Rourke. That sort of thing.
At the very least, it gives us something to mull over as we bide our time until voting actually starts.