Bernie Sanders is certainly to be commended for leading a modern US political campaign funded almost in its entirety by campaign contributions from individuals. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the Sanders campaign (through June 30) raised $226 million in individual contributions, with this accounting for 99% of the total money raised by or for the campaign (including outside groups). This is impressive, and hopefully will serve as a model for future political campaigns.
Famously, the Sanders campaign touted that the average contribution came out to just $27, thus highlighting the grass roots nature of his support. And this has been widely quoted. Even President Obama got in on this. In his remarks at this year’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner, he noted:
“What an election season. For example, we’ve got the bright new face of the Democratic Party here tonight –- Mr. Bernie Sanders! There he is — Bernie! Bernie, you look like a million bucks. Or to put it in terms you’ll understand, you look like 37,000 donations of 27 dollars each!”
But listening to Sanders’ speech to the Democratic Convention on Monday, a point bothered me. And being a numbers person, I had to look it up. Sanders noted right at the beginning of his remarks that he wanted to:
“thank the 2 1/2 million Americans who helped fund our campaign with an unprecedented 8 million individual campaign contributions – averaging $27 a piece.”
This was the first time I realized that the $27 individual contribution may not be referring to what an average person contributed, but rather to what the average donation was, where they are counting separately each donation from an individual contributor making multiple donations.
And it does appear that this is the case. The $226 million figure noted above for total contributions divided by 8 million individual campaign contributions comes to a bit over $28 per contribution – close enough to the $27 number; it is within round-off. But per individual, it comes to over $90 per person over the 2 1/2 million individuals who contributed to the Sanders campaign. On average, each donor contributed 3.2 times.
This is a quibble, to be sure. But an average contribution of $90 (per donor) does not sound as democratic as $27 (per donation).