How Campaign Finance Is Changing in the Internet Age

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Online campaign financing has totally changed the game. It makes grassroots fundraising more accessible than ever before–and has often tipped the balance in key races thanks to viral social media posts about a particular candidate.

Since 2004, Democrats have used an online presence called ActBlue to raise campaign funds. Recently, Republicans followed suit with their own online presence, WinRed. They hope to catch up to the other side of the aisle in small-donor fundraising, but Democrats have a strong head start.

In 2020, Democrats retook the Senate by a narrow margin and maintained their majority in the House. During these races, Democratic candidates raised significantly more money than Republicans, thanks in no small part to ActBlue.

Online Fundraising

A single speech on TV, a Supreme Court hearing, a viral moment on social media: all of these can be moments that spur small donors into action. Having a web portal to make donations as easy as possible is critical in modern political campaigns. Without such a portal, it’s difficult for parties to capitalize on the momentum of these viral moments.

Even before 2020, political campaigns had been shifting to a more digital presence. While traditional TV ads are still effective in some parts of the country, tomorrow’s campaigns are more concerned with enterprise storage cloud solutions than with televised appearances. It’s a major shift in mindset–and one that the Democratic Party has seemingly embraced more easily than the Republican Party.

Political analysts have discussed at length why the “old way” doesn’t work anymore. In a bygone era of campaign advertising, a smart strategy would see a campaign storing up tons of cash before spending it in a blitz before election day. That spending spree would almost invariably amount to a massive traditional TV ad campaign.

However, that old way makes a lot less sense in the age of Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter.

Social Media and Engagement

For years, the most politically engaged demographic has skewed older than the national average age. In the past few years, however, political engagement is up among younger people. Analysts believe that viral posts and videos on social media have contributed to this shift. It’s easier now than ever before to reach a large audience on a small budget.

One of the biggest changes this has brought about in campaigns is the sudden untethering of a campaign from its geographic location. For a national election, you don’t need to just focus on the “home” region near your campaign’s headquarters. The internet lets you reach the widest audience imaginable in a few clicks.

Now, fundraising is about capturing the spirit of the moment. Whoever has the savviest PR team and the snappiest online presence reaps the reward. The question is whether candidates ready to adapt to this changing landscape. Otherwise, they might get left behind.