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Americans more likely to finance presidential candidate with broad support base

Americans more often donate funds to a presidential candidate if the campaign is backed by financiers from different, recognised social groups. This is the conclusion of Leiden researcher Vincent Traag in an article in Plos One published on 14 April.

Diverse social circles

The likelihood that Americans will donate funds to a presidential candidate increases by 5 to 15 per cent for every donor that they recognise from a particular social group, such as family. But every donor from a different social group known to the potential donor - work colleagues, study colleagues, fellow club members, etc. - increases the likelihood that they will donate by 50 to 90 per cent, according to Traag. 

Broad base of supporters

Traag has observed this effect in all American presidential elections between 2000 and 2012, and it applies both to Republican and Democratic supporters. How can this effect be explained? Traag:  â€˜People like to donate to a candidate who has a good chance of winning. To be able to gauge that, you want to know whether he or she has enough support. If there is only one group donating funds to the candidate, his or her support is obviously limited. On that basis, a broad base of supporters is important.' 

His advice to political parties is that they should try to attract as many different groups as possible and should encourage people to donate money, then the so-called multiplier effect is greatest.

Obstructing Bush and Obama

Traag noticed a surprising outcome from the election campaigns of 2004 and 2008. In 2004, in an environment where there was a lot of support for Republican candidate George W. Bush, some people donated to his Democrat challenger John Kerry. The roles were reversed in 2008: in a situation where there was a lot of support for the Democrat candidate Barack Obama, many people donated to his Republican opponent John McCain. Traag: 'It may well be that they felt there was too much support for a candidate that they were not keen on. In that case, people are very likely to support this or her opponent.' What's also important here is that the number of groups that donate is more important than the number of donors. However, the strategy proved unsuccessful: both Bush and Obama won the elections. 

Database of American elite

Traag, by training a sociologist and mathematician, carried out his research at the eHumanities group of the KNAW and the KITLV and is currently a researcher at the Centre for Science and Technology Studies at Leiden University. He is an expert in analysing complex networks and bases his findings on data from around 50,000 Americans from the elite classes. These data are maintained by the LittleSis website, that was developed by the Public Accountability Initiative, an organisation that aims to expose power networks in the US. The database contains information about the people who make up this elite: their networks, jobs, education, memberships and donations to presidential candidates and political parties. 

Donald Trump

Traag has not studied the current American presidential election. The campaigns are still running and Donald Trump is using his own money, which gives an atypical pattern. 'A lot of money is no guarantee of success, but too little money makes it difficult to run a good campaign.' 

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