(MintPress) – Change may have a different connotation right now for President Barack Obama’s campaign than it does for voters, as an analysis of campaign finance data by BuzzFeed shows that individual donors to Obama’s reelection push have significantly fallen since his 2008 election. The analysis indicates that 88 percent of the donors that gave at least $200 in 2008 have either refrained from contributing or gave less than they did in 2008. Figures for donations less that $200 are not tracked by the Federal Elections Commission (FEC).
The research shows that of the slightly more than 550,000 people who gave $200 or more in 2008, 537,806 had not contributed that sum in this campaign cycle. The findings come on the heels of Obama’s decisive victory in 2008’s presidential election, which turned out the longest list of individual donors to a candidate in the history of American politics.
A host of factors may be working against Obama, as facets of American life have changed, along with attitudes toward Obama. Real Clear Politics (RCP) data shows the enthusiasm gap – a tactic to measure voter interest between two parties – has decreased for Obama, particularly among demographics he handedly won in 2008. RCP writer Dick Morris noted that among Hispanics – a demographic Obama secured two-thirds of the votes from in 2008 – only 41 percent currently approve of the president’s performance.
Morris speculates that Obama’s focus on targeted legislation, such as his recent endorsement of same-sex marriage, is meant to rein in undecided voters that once made up his popularity in 2008.
“Obama clearly recognizes his situation and is featuring policies meant to appease and energize his sagging base,” Morris wrote. “From his intervention in the Florida shooting of an unarmed teenager to his new immigration policies and his focus on student loans, the president is trying to bridge the enthusiasm gap that threatens to doom his candidacy.”
James Campbell, professor and chair of political science at the University of Buffalo, believes that the lack of repeat donations may be a symbol of election hype in 2008 and that people were more engaged because of the excitement in the Democratic Party for Obama. Campbell speculated there may be a fatigue with the election process with voters, and that may be quelling their participation.
“The nomination contest in 2008 probably generated early interest in contributing to Obama, and I think that may account for part of the difference,” Campbell said in an interview with MintPress. “A lot of his former supporters – and even those that currently support him – are not as enthusiastic as they were four years ago, so there’s a significant decline in the belief of the candidate.”
But Campbell says the lack of enthusiasm really comes down to economic recovery and failed policies implemented by Obama and his administration. The country is still battling a stubbornly high 8.2 percent unemployment rate and the president was a key figure in a publicized debt ceiling battle that resulted in the United States’ credit rating being downgraded by Standard and Poor’s for the first time last summer.
“It may ultimately be the circumstances – he’s an incumbent that is in trouble and I think he’s seeing that a lot of the supporters in 2008 are dispirited,” Campbell said. “A bigger part of it is the economy because it continues to be sluggish and weak and the programs that he’s advocated have not created the conditions that they were hoping. The recovery has been anemic at best.”
University of Minnesota political science professor Larry Jacobs says Obama has tarnished much of the support base he had from Democrats for failing on many of his campaign promises.
“The support for him among Democrats has clearly eroded; there’s been a really falling away of enthusiasm for him,” Jacobs told MintPress. “The reality is that there were many things he could not deliver. People were promised immigration reform, labor reform … people expected Guantanamo Bay to be closed; they expected union organizing laws; they expected global climate change legislation – and that hasn’t happened. And Obama has been blamed for that – fairly or unfairly.”
Incomes have also been on the decline in the years Obama has been in office. The latest census data showed that the U.S. median income fell in 35 states, with a nationwide average of a 2.2 percent decline. Seven states saw median incomes drop by more than 5 percent. With a national budget deficit well over $15 trillion, the debt spreads out to $50,303 per American – more than the median household income in the U.S. of $46,326.
In the analysis of individual donations to Obama’s campaign, former donor Lisa Pike, who gave $658 to Obama in 2008, said she is not contributing this year because of a failed promise of not providing the social safety nets he ran his campaign on in 2008, such as a single-payer healthcare system.
“Where’s the change I can believe in?” Pike asked in her interview with Buzzfeed. “I wish he was the socialist they accused him of being. I wish we had the tons of change that would justify the right freaking out. I wish him well — I don’t dislike him personally — but I’m disappointed that he’s not the change-agent I had hoped for.”
Super PACs come up big
The decrease in repeat individual contributions for Obama does not put him at a financial disadvantage, however. With more than $84 million available to spend during the primary election process, Obama has a significant advantage over presumptive Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who has just over $10 million available for the primary.
But the role of controversial Super PACs in the election have provided ample amounts of funding for candidates. The political action committees campaign for or against candidates with private funding, and Obama and Romney both have Super PACs that rank in the top four in political fundraising.
Pro-Obama Super PAC, Priorities USA Action, has raked in more than $10.5 million thus far, while the pro-Romney Super PAC, Restore Our Future, has produced more than $56.5 million in the election cycle.
Campbell said the issue of losing individual donors will not affect Obama much because he already has significantly more funds than Romney and is not necessarily at risk of losing votes just because donations have fallen. He speculated that Romney is not the alternative Obama supporters will go for, and that they will vote for Obama despite their displeasure.
Elizabeth Hollins was part of the polling process for the Buzzfeed analysis and said she would vote for Obama this year despite cutting off donations. In 2008, Hollins and her husband donated $2,450 to Obama.
“I was excited about him. I walked door to door,” Hollins said of 2008. “But I haven’t been thrilled. Am I going to vote for Romney? No. But I want to be excited about my president. We are waiting to see more of the leadership we had hoped for before we fork over all of our money.”
Jacobs’ assessment of the lost donations showed that it could also be a sign that people no longer want to participate in the political process this election cycle and that Obama is not a shoe-in vote for those who initially supported him but refuse to vote for Romney. Jacobs said they simply won’t vote at all.
“It could be an indicator of a broader falloff and enthusiasm and possibly turnout for the president come November,” Jacobs said. “A lot of the folks won’t vote for Romney, but a lot also won’t turn out and cast their ballots for Obama.”
Campbell acknowledged that the early analysis could be cause for worry for the Obama campaign, but that contributions could very well pick up once the presidential primaries land on the public’s radar later in the summer.
“Both campaigns will be extremely well-funded,” Campbell said. “Once the campaign heats up, some of these supporters will start contributing more. So part of this lack of donations may just be a delay.”
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