Truck drivers, warehouse workers, bartenders and waitresses are mostly supporting Bernie Sanders. Hostesses, morticians and priests mostly back Pete Buttigieg, while most mathematicians, librarians and historians contribute to Elizabeth Warren’s campaign. We know all this because ActBlue, a fundraising platform close to the Democratic Party, has recently disclosed an avalanche of data on small political donors to the Federal Elections Commission, as required by law.
David Waldron, a political scientist and computer enthusiast, cross-referenced the data published by the FEC with census data and found that each of the candidates for the Democratic nomination for president seems to have their own very well-defined and recognizable social base.
For example, Joe Biden, Obama’s VP after a decades-long career in the Senate, has the support of lawyers, judges, police officers and security guards (in short, the legal/law enforcement professions), while Buttigieg, the young mayor of an Indiana town, is getting many donations from priests and ministers, but also from managers, nurses and doctors. These two centrist candidates have bases that are quite diverse, while the social categories supporting Sanders and Warren are much more clearly defined.
Sanders is the candidate of blue collar workers who vote Democrat: truck drivers, cooks and waiters in fast food restaurants, bartenders. The senator from Vermont is getting between 55% and 60% of donations from these categories. If there’s any politician who can compete with Trump for the support of workers without a college degree, that would be him.
It’s no coincidence that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the young House member from New York who represents the left wing of the Democratic Party, has endorsed Sanders in the presidential race, in a video in which she stresses the need for organizing the working class for a real and peaceful “revolution” in the United States. Sanders announced two weeks ago that he had exceeded the figure of one million donors to his campaign, a base of support so large that none of the other candidates can hope to equal.
In the progressive camp, there is also Warren, the combative senator from Massachusetts, who, according to the polls, is on a strong growth trajectory. In October, she topped Sanders in nationwide polls, and she even went higher than the favorite, Biden, in a few of them. Warren is by far the candidate with the most detailed program, especially as regards healthcare, and her performances thus far have been on point. Many already consider her to be the candidate to beat, as evidenced by the mounting attacks against her.
An analysis of the makeup of her donors, however, reveals that her social base is found in the universities and in the intellectual professions: teachers, students, librarians, economists, teachers, journalists. This is a very active and militant wing of the party, and one which donates generously as well, but it reveals certain limitations in the size of the audience that supports her.
Of course, these figures only reflect the more active part of the electorate, namely those who have already sent money to candidates: it is perfectly possible that at the polls, the majority of truck drivers, for instance, will end up voting for the Democratic candidate even if he or she is not Sanders—or, indeed, for Trump, as happened in 2016.
However, the perspective that the donation data is giving us on the relationship between candidates and the social classes of the Democratic coalition is extremely important.
For example, we find that when looking at overall donor contributions, the establishment candidate, Biden, is only fourth, with 8.6% of donations, far below Warren and Buttigieg (12.5%) and miles away from Sanders, who is collecting more than a quarter of donations: 27.2%. This is another sign of weakness for Biden, among the several others that have come up so far: first of all, the fact of being a traditional and not particularly charismatic politician.
Biden has also been indirectly damaged by the Ukraine scandal that has set the drive to impeach Trump in motion: his son has been involved in business dealings in the Ukraine which, while likely legal, still appear somewhat shady.
In recent weeks, Sanders has been somewhat overshadowed by the brilliant and charismatic Warren, but the data shows us that his base of support among workers appears solid.