American Government and Politics

Donate To Help Us Fight Back: Mobilization Rhetoric in Political Fundraising



How do campaigns differentially target donors and voters? We show that fundraising messages are an important class of electoral persuasion that reveals how campaigns perceive and target their “financial electorate.” Because candidates’ voters and donors can differ significantly, we theorize that rhetoric is chosen strategically for the target audience. Using data from the Facebook Ad Library for U.S. congressional candidates in the 2020 general election, we distinguish ads by persuasion targets. Then we use text analysis to test whether donor-targeting messages are, on average, more toxic, negative, and likely to reference a polarizing political figurehead (Donald Trump). While these expectations were largely borne out, there was significant variation by party and chamber. For example, Republican House candidates’ appeals were more toxic than Democrats’ and even more so when soliciting money. As the scramble for donations intensifies, these characteristics of appeals for cash may further polarize the electorate.


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Supplementary material

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Supplementary Materials
These appendices contain an explanation of our key variables, an outline of our data-generation process and topic-modeling steps, and several supplemental plots and figures.


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