Ben Carson and Bernie Sanders, two longshot candidates who have outperformed expectations in the polls, have accumulated a far higher percentage of their campaign funds from small donors than any of the other candidates, according to an analysis from the Campaign Finance Institute.
Of the $350 million that CFI counts as having been raised so far this cycle by candidates and super-PACs, just $42 million, or 12 percent, came from donors giving less than $200. By contrast, 31 percent came from the 56 donors who gave $1 million or more, and more than half came from the 474 donors who gave $100,000 or more.
The top candidates from each party have fairly dismal small-dollar operations. Jeb Bush’s team has raised the most money in the race, with a whopping $114 million combined between the campaign and the Right to Rise super-PAC. Of that, just $700,000, or far less than 1 percent, has come from small donors. Compare that with the 25 percent of his team’s cash that has come from donors giving $1 million or more.
The next biggest Republican fundraiser, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, whose combined operation has raised $50.9 million, has picked up about 11 percent of his money from small donors. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, whose campaign and super-PAC have amassed about $24.5 million, has gotten about 8 percent from the $200-and-under crowd. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker did not have an official campaign at the last deadline to file campaign finance reports, but his super-PAC, Unintimidated PAC, appears to have gotten no small donations. Of the $20 million it has raised, $12.7 million came from just four people.
Political campaigns often try to portray themselves as driven by grassroots support, but they face a formidable obstacle: Most Americans don’t ever make a campaign donation. Even Barack Obama, renowned for his ability to reach out to grassroots donors, got just 33 percent of his 2012 campaign’s cash from people contributing less than $200. With the cost of elections rising, it’s increasingly rare for a candidate to get a sizable proportion of his or her campaign cash from small donors. So far in this presidential race, just two candidates have managed to do so—and they’re not two people who often find themselves in the same sentence.