What Happened: Fundraising Part 3

Guest post by Sophie Futrovsky

A couple months ago we brought you a closer look at Democratic state legislative fundraising in the key states of Arizona, Iowa, Michigan, North Carolina, and Texas. Today we’re back with a post that compares Republican and Democratic fundraising in battleground state legislative districts in those same five states.

Our initial analysis of Democratic fundraising showed that while the election results were disappointing, fundraising was a bright spot. The Democratic candidate in the 32 districts we studied raised $768,000, on average. That’s a quarter of a million dollars more than we expected candidates to raise for even the most expensive chamber, based on 2018 fundraising.

Our analysis of GOP fundraising shows further good news on the fundraising front for Democrats: Over the course of the campaign cycle, the average Democratic candidate in these districts raised about $100,000 more than that of their GOP opponent. The two outliers are Texas and Iowa – Republican big money in Texas gave their candidates a sustained advantage throughout the cycle, and conversely, Republican candidates in Iowa had surprisingly low fundraising totals both compared to their Democratic counterparts and in general.

The below line graph shows average fundraising totals for GOP candidates across the studied districts.

In our initial blog post, What Happened: Fundraising Part 1, we noted that while all but one of our Democratic candidates surpassed the baseline fundraising goals we set, the vast majority of that money was raised in the weeks approaching the November election. As of January 1, 2020, the average Democratic candidate had $26,000 in the bank, just 3% of the average overall amount raised. By June 2020, the average Democrat had raised only $139,000, roughly 18% of the average overall amount raised.

While Democrats managed to catch up, Republicans did start the cycle with an advantage, thanks in large part to the fact that most of the GOP candidates were incumbents. By January 1, 2020 the average Republican candidate had just over $100,000 in the bank. This is almost four times as much as their Democratic opponents and they were five times closer to their ultimate fundraising number. By June 2020, the average Republican had raised $165,000 or 25% of the average overall amount raised.

The below line graph compares average fundraising totals for Democratic and Republican candidates in the studied districts.

While the line graph “plots” Democrats overtaking their GOP counterparts in the summer, what we know from internal Democratic fundraising data is that Democrats likely didn’t actually make that gain until the fall, when state legislative fundraising saw a significant uptick.

The below chart compares average fundraising totals by chamber to show fundraising differentials throughout the cycle. With this, we see that while Democrats in Arizona, North Carolina, and Michigan eventually surpassed their GOP counterparts, it takes until the middle of the year or later for that to happen.

ChamberJanuary 1, 2020End of JuneMid-JulyEnd of SeptemberMid-OctoberTotal Raise Differential
AZ Legislature-$106,606-$82,786 $11,099 $40,301
NC House-$15,910$102,914  $387,552$476,785
MI House-$33,912 $21,855 $173,027$208,330
IA House$7,763 $51,978 $249,169$298,926
TX House-$223,611-$221,835 -$169,669 -$543,384

While Republicans maintained a consistent fundraising edge in Texas, the amounts that candidates on both sides of the aisle raised in total are pretty astounding for legislative races. By the end of the election cycle, the average Democrat raised just over $1.5 million while the average Republican candidate raised over $2 million. Democrats closed a large initial gap thanks to GOP incumbents with a lot of money in the bank; while the average Democratic candidate started off 2020 with just under $50,000, the average Republican started off 2020 with over $270,000.

Even in Texas where Democrats were outspent, the total amount raised by Democrats in this past election cycle is extremely encouraging and shows how much Democratic donors do care about state legislative races. The next challenge is how we can do more to ensure campaigns have funds earlier in the cycle to enable the kind of long-term organizing and strategic voter outreach that will be needed to flip tough districts moving forward.

Because despite the large amount of resources invested in legislative races in 2020 (compared to previous cycles), we don’t have much to show for it in terms of results. In Arizona we netted one seat, in North Carolina House we net lost four seats, in Michigan we saw no change, in Iowa we net lost six seats, and in Texas we saw no change.

Moving money to these districts earlier in the cycle is a critical piece of the puzzle, but these results (or lack thereof) also point to a much more fundamental issue for Democratic state legislative campaigns. We must invest in truly figuring out how Democrats can win in the GOP-leaning legislative landscape, or no amount of money invested in the same strategy that failed us in 2020 will give us different results.