Originally published for the Sun Chronicle on April 7, 2016.
BOSTON – State election records show that Democratic presidential campaign contributions from the Attleboro area mirror nationwide trends, with Hillary Clinton bringing in the big bucks from fewer contributors, while her primary opponent Bernie Sanders attracts substantially more small donors.
In nine out of 10 Attleboro-area communities, Sanders, the U.S. senator from Vermont, had a higher number of contributions than Clinton, the former first lady and secretary of state. But still, Clinton raised more money in six of the 10 communities, including Mansfield, North Attleboro, Norton, Plainville, Rehoboth and Seekonk.
“The pattern of giving in the Attleboro region tends to reflect what’s happening in giving nationwide in the Democratic primary,” said Paul Watanabe, a political science professor from the University of Massachusetts Boston.
“Bernie Sanders has attracted many more contributors than Hillary Clinton has, but the average contribution itself tends to be much smaller. So, Hillary Clinton has raised significant amounts of money per contributor, but has fewer contributors total than Bernie Sanders.”
The campaign finance reporting period was from Jan. 1, 2015, to Feb. 1, 2016.
When combining the contributions from all 10 area communities, Clinton and Sanders raised about the same amount of money, with Sanders actually edging out Clinton by $150.
Sanders, however, had almost three times the number of contributions as Clinton.
Sanders raised $13,370 from 196 contributions in the Attleboro area, while Clinton needed only 68 contributions to reach $13,214.
Nationwide, Clinton has raised almost twice as much money as Sanders. Clinton opened her doors to both individual contributors and super PACs, raising more than $188 million since January 2015.
Sixty-nine percent of those funds, or $130.4 million, came from almost 750,000 individual contributors, Clinton said in a recent debate.
Sanders has made it part of his campaign strategy to accept money only from individual contributors, leaving him trailing at $96.3 million, despite having almost twice the number of contributors.
In January, members of Sanders’ campaign said the senator had almost 1.3 million individual contributors who have made a total of 3.25 million contributions.
But contributions to Sanders’ campaign are smaller on average. Almost three-quarters of individual contributions to Sanders’ campaign were $200 or less, according to the Washington-based Center of Responsive Politics, a non-partisan, non-profit organization that provides analysis of political campaign finances.
Conversely, only 17 percent of contributions to Clinton’s campaign were $200 or less.
In February, members of Sanders’ campaign also announced that the average individual contribution so far in 2016 was $27. Members of Clinton’s campaign later announced that average donations to her campaign are $56 this year.
Watanabe said that nationwide and area contribution patterns conform to Sanders’ anti-establishment approach to the election, but that it’s hard to generalize the population of supporters for any candidate.
“It conforms very clearly to what has been a central part of Bernie Sanders’ message: his ability to reach out and gain approval from larger numbers of less well-heeled donors, eschewing what he calls the Wall Street establishment and large deep-pocketed donors, and appealing instead to people who have made small contributions,” he said.
“But until you break down the individual statistics for each contribution, it’s hard to generalize about any particular profile or contributor for either Hillary or Bernie.”
But, Jeffery Berry, a professor of American politics and political behavior from Tufts University in Medford, said campaign contributions tend to reflect a candidate’s following and support.
“All candidates running for president try to communicate that they’re representing average Americans, rather than the moneyed class, and it’s usually the case that their campaign contributions show their support actually comes from the people who are actually pretty wealthy,” he said. “So, how they want to be perceived and where their money comes from is actually two different things.”
Berry said that by rejecting large contributions from super PACs, Sanders has “done really well in convincing people that he’s for the little guy,” but that Clinton has pulled in a lot of individual contributions, as well, speaking to the breadth of her popularity.
Watanabe said the disparity in the funds-to-contributor ratio has not put Sanders at a disadvantage – and that was evident in the Attleboro-area contributions.
“The fact is that in terms of total contributions, Bernie Sanders is doing very, very well in comparison to Hillary Clinton. There’s not a significant advantage by either candidate over the other in terms of their ability to raise money,” he said. “So, we’re not having a David and Goliath situation here. They’re both able to attract significant amounts of money from their donors.”
In the Massachusetts Presidential Primary last month, Sanders won the majority of votes in each of the 10 cities and towns, but Clinton took the state overall.
Both professors said the number of campaign contributors does not reflect upon a candidate’s ability to win votes because the number of contributors is small when compared to the number of overall voters.
“In this election season it’s hard to generalize,” Watanabe said. “The candidate who has attracted the most votes of any candidate of either party is Donald Trump, and he’s raised among the lowest amounts of money from individual contributions than anybody, but has attracted significant amounts of votes. So in his case, there’s no correlation.”