The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

GOP’s 2022 small-dollar fundraising sputters as Democrats’ lead grows

Author and now-Ohio GOP Senate nominee J.D. Vance speaks at the 2017 National Book Festival in Washington. (Salwan Georges/The Washington Post)
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Democrats remain underdogs in the 2022 midterm elections, as the president’s party almost always is. But even as President Biden’s approval rating has continued to decline, there are signs that Democrats might avoid a wave election. Among them: They remain competitive on the generic congressional ballot, and some key GOP Senate candidates are underperforming the fundamentals in their states.

Another sign suggesting that Democrats’ prospects aren’t overly bleak: fundraising.

Despite the GOP’s apparent momentum in the midterms, Democratic Senate candidates as a whole are far outpacing Republicans in many key races when it comes to campaign money, as we learned last week.

And now comes more data, which shows that Democratic small-dollar donors — one key measure of how engaged a party’s base is — appear significantly more motivated than their GOP counterparts.

With four months to go until Election Day, Republican small-dollar fundraising through the party’s preferred online platform, WinRed, has remained static this year. In January, 1.26 million online contributions of $200 or less were made on WinRed; that number in June was 1.21 million.

The total raised from these small-dollar donations has also fallen slightly — from $29.5 million in January to $26.6 million in June.

Democrats, by contrast, have seen the types of increases you would expect as an election nears — from nearly 3 million donations in January to 4 million in June, via their chief platform, ActBlue. The total raised from these donations has also risen — from $44 million in January to more than $64 million in June.

These data include House and Senate candidates, as well party as committees, political action committees (PACs) and money raised by both Biden and former president Donald Trump.

Both parties are raising less than they did at this point in the 2020 presidential election, as one would expect. But Democrats are much closer to those numbers, raising about half the nearly $127 million they raised in June 2020. Republicans, by contrast, have raised less than 30 percent of their June 2020 total of $94 million.

Democrats in June 2022 also raised more than double what they raised during the same month in the last midterm election cycle, in 2018.

These numbers are hardly the be-all, end-all of campaign fundraising. Democrats have long relied more on small-dollar donations, and that trend continues today. Some key Republican candidates are also relying heavily on wealthy benefactors like Peter Thiel funding super PACs to support them.

The campaign of one Thiel-backed candidate, Ohio GOP Senate nominee J.D. Vance, was outraised 4 to 1 by his Democratic opponent, Rep. Tim Ryan, in the second quarter of 2022. Vance is one of several top GOP Senate candidates to be significantly outraised by his Democratic opponent, with many Democrats setting fundraising records and massively outpacing their opponents in small-dollar donations, as Axios reported.

One of the stories of the GOP in the Trump era was its ability to close the gap on small-dollar fundraising — a gap that has yawned again with Trump out of office, at least through these two platforms. (Not all small-dollar donations are routed through them, but they are the parties’ respective choices for facilitating such donations.)

Small-dollar fundraising could also be seen as a sign of how mobilized the two parties’ bases are. Democrats have sought to use the Supreme Court’s recent overturning of Roe v. Wade to spur enthusiasm for their midterm candidates — although evidence of its impact is thus far inconclusive.

Republicans remain favored to retake both chambers of Congress, especially because they need such small gains to do so — only a net gain of one seat in the 50-50 Senate and a handful of seats in the closely divided House. And not every indicator is created equal. But this is surely one worth keeping an eye on.