Saturday, August 12, 2017

On banked support

A couple of weeks back, I examined the role of endorsements in the federal NDP's leadership race. Now, I'll take a quick look at where the current fund-raising numbers and distribution stand - and how they figure to relate to the NDP's previous leadership campaigns.

The closest comparison to this campaign is of course the 2012 leadership race. There, the final fund-raising totals for the candidates who stayed in the race ranged from Niki Ashton's $86,806.70 (from 1,163 contributors) to Tom Mulcair's $522,788.00 (from 3,482 contributors). And the contributor numbers ranged from Ashton's 1,163 to Martin Singh's 7,965. 

But of course, the final numbers weren't known when people actually voted. And there were some noteworthy changes over the home stretch of the campaign: Mulcair overtook Brian Topp as the top fund-raiser after trailing in the previous quarterly report, while Singh drastically increased his number of donors even while raising relatively little compared to the pre-convention numbers.

In general, total donations proved to be a strong indicator of voting support. (In contrast, donor numbers were far less reliable, with Singh's total serving as the obvious outlier.)

The connection between donations and votes was even stronger in the 2003 campaign: then, every candidate's vote share was within 1.5% of his or her fund-raising share. So there's certainly some precedent to suggest that NDP vote totals may closely track donations.

What's more, as I've noted, the connection between fund-raising and voting outcomes could be stronger this time out since there's far more room to convert an advantage in fund-raising capacity into campaign outcomes. 

In 2012, it's possible that Mulcair in particular could have raised more than he did. But a $500,000 spending limit provided him with no particular incentive to raise substantially more than that amount. 

In contrast, with the spending limit tripled this time around, the ability to raise more money can lead to a far stronger campaign operation. And with candidates needing to reach voters over multiple separate voting windows, a campaign's financial resources may be particularly crucial when members make their final decision.

So how much attention should we pay to fund-raising - particularly when it may conflict with some other normally-reliable indicators?

Since this time there actually is a meaningful difference in how the race projects based on various factors, I'd be surprised if the first ballot doesn't end up somewhere in the middle. 

We certainly shouldn't look at the 2003 precedent and assume Jagmeet Singh's vote share will match his proportion of funds raised, particularly given the poll results released so far. But nor should we ignore either the importance of Singh's fund-raising lead as an indicator of support, or his ability to use donations to change the course of the campaign. And that advantage may be especially important if the race comes down to the wire. 

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