Something’s Gotta Give

Andrew Yang raised $16.5 million last quarter. That’s a lot. Bernie Sanders pulled in $34.5 mil, and Mayor Pete was good for $24.7, but Yang will finish ahead of established politicians like Amy Klobuchar and Cory Booker, and in the same range as Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren.

He’s gaining momentum. In the third quarter, Yang grabbed $10 million. That was way up from $2.8 in Q2 and $1.8 in Q1. No other candidate has followed this path. Sanders picked up right where he left off in 2016. He’s a small individual contributor colossus. Warren transferred funds from her Senate campaign account to get started and then showed early and continuous strength with small contributors.

Biden has relied on larger contributors from the beginning. Buttigieg was immediately able to attract both large and small donors, leading the money contest in Q2 and remaining consistent since then. Both Kamala Harris and Beto O’Rourke were able to raise a lot of money when polling in double digits and not very much otherwise. Tom Steyer and Mike Bloomberg are self-funding.

Yang is the only candidate who wasn’t raising lots of money in Q2 who managed to build momentum. He’s also the only candidate pulling in funds without matching poll numbers. When Buttigieg began hauling money in, he was near 10% in national polls. This past quarter, he led in Iowa, was at or near the top in New Hampshire, and fourth nationally.

Besides his established base, Sanders has run second or third in national polling for a solid year. Biden has led for most of that same year. Warren reached the top three in the spring. That’s not Yang. He’s at 3.5% in the Real Clear Politics average. That ties him for 6th with Klobuchar. He lacks particular strength in any of the early voting states. While there is some range between survey numbers, even if the averages remain consistent, Yang is still waiting for his first double-digit poll.

This is unprecedented. There are candidates who have raised lots of money without it translating to poll or primary success. But they were not relying on hundreds of thousands of individual contributors like Yang. John Connally, Phil Gramm, and Jeb Bush were large donor darlings who had no base of support among regular voters. And they still polled ahead of where Yang is.

The only previous candidates who have matched or exceeded Yang with small donors are Sanders when he finished second in 2016 and was polling well from September 2015, Barack Obama, and Howard Dean, who faded, but led the 2004 polling at the time he was at peak fundraising.

There’s no precedent for someone doing this well with contributions without a bump on the polling side. Yang is doing a little better than when he raised $2.8 million in the spring, but not much. He’s up to the numbers that made large and small donors give up on Beto and Kamala.

It’s not impossible that Yang is doing better in early states than we think. As he’s noted repeatedly over the past several days, there’s almost no data since Thanksgiving, and Yang has spent a lot of time on the ground in both Iowa and New Hampshire. There’s no indication that he’s among the leaders yet. Even Yang isn’t suggesting that. He’s merely saying that it’s ridiculous that he’s had no chance to get the poll results that would qualify him for the next debate.

So which is it? Is Yang a small, niche candidate, with a cadre of supporters who are extra willing to give him a few bucks. Or, are the dollars a precursor of the Yang Boom to follow soon?

There’s evidence in both directions. Sanders had 4x as many donors in 2019 and has about 5x the poll support. He also got 5x as many individual donations. Maybe it’s a simple equation. Yang is closing the gap a bit, but Sanders just had his best quarter. This would mean Yang will pick up some more votes, enough to qualify for the next debate if they get new polls done in time, but not enough to really contend.

The other argument is Yang’s fundraising is starting to spike. He raised $4 million in the last week of the year. If he were to sustain that (not likely) it’s a $52 million quarterly pace. If the truth is somewhere in between, and Yang is on his way to raising $25-30 million in Q1 2020 it’s hard to see how he wouldn’t at least be a factor.

While his top line and even second choice numbers aren’t moving quickly, Yang is improving dramatically in favorability surveys. He still trails the top four, but the gap is narrowing. He’s also at the bottom of the list of candidates some voters would object to.

We need more data. Yang regularly sets short-term funding goals that are tracked and publicised on his Twitter account. If he’s making more progress, we won’t have to wait a whole quarter to notice. And we really need to see some new early state numbers. If Yang is at 7 or 8% in New Hampshire, he’s only one more polling bump from being a threat.

Hang on about two weeks and we’ll know which it is. If there’s a Yang Surprise in New Hampshire, the first clue was in December funding.

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