Are Donors Less Enthusiastic About Obama?

Are Obama donors less enthusiastic than they were in 2012? Writing for Buzzfeed, Ben Smith says yes:

In 2008, more than 550,000 gave more than $200 to Barack Obama, entering their names in the longest list of individual donors ever seen in American politics. […]

But now, as Obama struggles to keep pace with his 2008 fundraising clip, that list offers a cross-section of Democratic disappointment and alienation. According to a BuzzFeed analysis of campaign finance data, 88% of the people who gave $200 or more in 2008 — 537,806 people — have not yet given that sum this year. And this drop-off isn’t simply an artifact of timing. A full 87% of the people who gave $200 — the sum that triggers an itemized report to the Federal Elections Commission — through April of 2008, 182,078 people, had not contributed by the end of last month.

It’s absolutely true that donations have dropped off from 2008, and while Smith has mustered plenty of quotes from dissatisfied Democrats, it’s not clear that this is solely—or even mostly—the result of disappointment with the president. For starters, Smith doesn’t account for the main difference between now and then—in 2008, Barack Obama was running a high profile and historic race against Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination. Of course his supporters are less interested in donating, now that he’s the incumbent running for reelection. That would be the case even if Democrats were uniformly satisfied with the president.

Indeed, to show that disappointment is responsible for the lack of new donations, you’d have to make similar comparisons for previous presidents, which Buzzfeed doesn’t do. If I had to guess, I think we’d see a similar pattern; a drop-off among supporters due to the more grounded nature of reelection campaigns. Which is to say that, overall, there isn’t much value in an analysis of Obama fundraising that doesn’t account for the lack of a primary.