Since 1945, six of the eight US Presidents to have sought re-election have won. Barack Obama’s ability to raise record sums is putting him in a good position to become the seventh, despite his low approval rating.
Although the election is a year away, the President has already invested much energy into fundraising. Thus far, it seems it has been time well spent. Obama has already raised $155 million for both his campaign and for the Democratic National Committee (DNC), which will help run the re-election campaign.
Obama’s fundraising prowess in the 2008 election was stunning: he went on to raise an unprecedented $750 million. In almost every presidential election since the data was recorded, the candidate who raises the most money wins the White House. Whilst Obama’s poll ratings are low, with just 45% of Americans approving of him, his ability to raise funds has not been materially affected. Obama’s campaign team believe he will meet and probably exceed all fundraising goals.
Incumbent presidents have numerous advantages over their challengers, especially when it comes to campaign fundraising. Big donors, whose donations typically make up a significant majority of a president’s campaign kitty, have a vested interest in donating to an administration whose decisions can still have an important impact on an organisation’s financial interests.
Obama recently conceded that “it’s not as trendy to be an Obama supporter as it was back in 2008”. Whilst perhaps true, this hasn’t affected the willingness of people to donate. He recently carried out a highly successful tour of his top donor state, California. On Monday, he attended a fundraising dinner where the tickets were a whopping $35,800 per person (the maximum which could be charged). He’s already raised more than $9 million from California, a state which donated $77 million to the campaign in 2008.
Although Obama won’t be able to generate the level of enthusiasm that he did in 2008, he is fortunate that the Republican field of contenders is weak. The current front runner, Mitt Romney, only holds that position because none of the other candidates look like plausible future Presidents. Romney’s inability to whip up a sense of fervour is not conducive to successful fund raising. Indeed, in the six months from April through September the Obama campaign took in $88 million. Romney raised just $33 million. Moreover, Romney has to spend those limited resources battling fellow Republicans. 90% of the funds he has raised are earmarked for the primaries, with just $3.4m raised towards the general election.
Anthony Corrado, an expert on campaign finance, says Obama’s fundraising success demonstrates that “he retains a loyal base of support…he’s going to amass the sums needed to be financially competitive with whoever the GOP nominee is”. However, with unemployment still at 9% and the economy being the defining issue of the election, the question is whether Obama’s fundraising ability will be enough to save him from the stigma of being a one term President.