American Government and Politics

Small Dollar Donors and the Evolving Democratic Party

Zachary Albert Brandeis University
Raymond La Raja University of Massachusetts Amherst
Increasing grassroots, small dollar donations has long been appealing to campaign finance reformers. Still, important questions remain. Are small donors becoming more common, especially in the Democratic Party? Are small donors really different from larger donors? And what do they tell us about the makeup and direction of the two parties? We use financial records and survey data to track small donors over time and examine their demographic and ideological characteristics. We find that, in recent cycles, the Democratic Party has attracted a growing share of money from small dollar donors, driven at least in part by technological advantages and the changing composition of their supporters. These donors are more demographically representative of the American public but share similar levels of ideological extremism as large donors. Importantly, female and ideologically extreme candidates are most likely to benefit from small donor funding, providing mixed evidence regarding the efficacy of potential reforms.