The two Americas financing the Trump and Biden campaigns
By Shane Golmacher, Ella Koeze and Rachel Shorey
Joe Biden has outraised President Donald Trump on the strength of some of the wealthiest and most educated ZIP codes in the United States, running up the fundraising score in cities and suburbs so resoundingly that he collected more money than Trump on all but two days in the last two months, according to a New York Times analysis of $1.8 billion donated by 7.6 million people since April.
The data reveals, for the first time, not only when Biden decisively overtook Trump in the money race — it happened the day Sen. Kamala Harris joined the ticket — but also what corners of the country, geographically and demographically, powered his remarkable surge.
The findings paint a portrait of two candidates who are, in many ways, financing their campaigns from two different Americas.
It is not just that much of Biden’s strongest support comes overwhelmingly from the two coasts, which it does. Or that Trump’s financial base is in Texas, which it is. It is that across the country, down to the ZIP code level, some of the same cleavages that are driving the 2020 election — along class and education lines — are also fundamentally reshaping how the two parties pay for their campaigns.
For years, affluent and college-educated voters, mostly white, had been the base of the Republican Party. Exit polls showed Republicans winning college graduates nationally from 1988 to 2004, and again in 2012. Voters who earned at least $100,000 have historically sided with most Republican presidential candidates by comfortable margins, too.
But under Trump, Republicans have hemorrhaged support from white voters with college degrees, who polls show have been repelled by his embrace of a politics of cultural division and racial grievance.
The fundraising data suggests that erosion is not only harming the party’s electoral prospects but also its economic bottom line.
Trump lost the money race in 2016, too, but he mobilized a base of white working-class voters then that offset his losses among college-educated voters. Now he is trying to leverage the powers of incumbency to do that to an even greater degree. But win or lose, Trump has accelerated a political realignment.
In ZIP codes with a median household income of at least $100,000, Biden smashed Trump in fundraising, $486 million to only $167 million — accounting for almost his entire financial edge. In the rest of the country, the two were knotted closely together.
It was a similar story in the most educated pockets of the country, only even more pronounced.
Of the ZIP codes where at least 65% of people had graduated from college — just over 1,000 out of nearly 32,000 populated ZIP codes that reported donations — Biden outraised Trump $478 million to $104 million. Below that education level, Trump was ahead by nearly $40 million.
“Alienating white college-educated voters means more than just losing their votes; it’s also literally costing them money,” said Amy Walter, the national editor of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. “These are the kinds of places that, not that long ago, hosted high-dollar fundraisers exclusively for GOP candidates. Now, those donors are sitting in their living rooms, tapping out donations to Democrats around the country via their smartphones.”
The analysis looked at more than 25 million donations from April 1 to Oct. 14, merging Federal Election Commission filings from the campaigns of Trump and Biden, their joint operations with the Republican National Committee and Democratic National Committee, and data from the donation-processing sites WinRed and ActBlue.
The analysis does not include direct donations to the parties themselves, but it covers more than 90% of contributions to Trump, Biden and the committees directly linked to them, from $1 gifts to checks of more than $700,000. The average donation to those committees was $71 for Trump and $76 for Biden.
Overall, Biden raised $1.07 billion and Trump $734 million over the last six months in the 32,000 populated ZIP codes, the analysis shows.
The period analyzed is not a perfect snapshot. Trump was seeking money from donors, including in wealthy enclaves, in the months before Biden first emerged as the presumptive Democratic nominee. But during the six months in which the choice was between these two men, the disparity was yawning.
Shift of educated voters
Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster who studies demographic trends, said “the donations mirror voting patterns,” as white voters with college degrees have swung sharply toward the Democrats in the last decade, with the trend expected to accelerate further in 2020 with Trump on the ticket.
“It makes perfect sense,” Ayres said of the donation data. “Basically, Republicans have traded larger, more upscale, fast-growing suburban counties for smaller, down-scale, slower-growing rural counties. That’s not a promising trend for future victories.”
In Georgia, the data shows that many of the suburban ZIP codes surrounding Atlanta, which are helping turn the state into a true presidential battleground for the first time in decades, are solidly Democratic when it comes to the number of donors, all the way deep into Gwinnett County, a swing county trending Democratic.
In Pennsylvania, the vote-rich suburbs outside Philadelphia are overwhelmingly blue, with virtually every ZIP code counting more Biden donors than Trump ones, including in Bucks County, where Biden campaigned on Saturday and where Hillary Clinton won by less than 1 percentage point four years ago.
And in Virginia, the demographic march of the suburbs and exurbs outside Washington, D.C., that have turned the state reliably Democratic is apparent in the Biden-leaning ZIP codes for donors that stretch nearly to the West Virginia border.
These political and fundraising trends underscore the jeopardy that Trump has created for himself and his party: Rather than enjoying the usual advantages of incumbency, the president is struggling to stanch the bleeding for the GOP in the suburbs. His conduct, rhetoric and record are imperiling some traditionally red Senate and House seats because of the realignment of college-educated voters toward moderate Democrats emphasizing issues like health care and economic growth.
“These voters with lots of disposable income and deep antipathy to Trump can channel their frustration into Biden’s campaign coffers,” said Walter of the Cook Political Report.
The median household in the United States was $68,703 in 2019. In ZIP codes above that level, Biden outraised Trump by $389.1 million. Below that level, Trump was actually ahead by $53.4 million.
A pivotal turning point
For months, after Biden had emerged as the presumptive Democratic nominee, he and Trump competed closely for donations, despite the president’s three-year head start. But that all changed on Aug. 11, when Biden named Harris as his running mate.
That day, Biden raised five times as much as Trump and nearly repeated that margin the day after. In the 65 days from the formation of the Biden-Harris team until Oct. 14, that Democratic team outraised Trump on 63 of them, according to the data.
The only two exceptions were the night of Trump’s convention speech, when Republican giving surged, and the day after his hospitalization with the coronavirus, when Democratic giving waned.
In those 65 days, Biden built a financial advantage of more than $300 million.