10 Nov 2016

How did Trump win with far less donor cash?

10:07 am on 10 November 2016

Donald Trump pulled off one of the biggest upsets in American political history when he toppled Hillary Clinton in the US presidential election yesterday- and he did it using far less donation cash than his rival.

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Photo: AFP

Relying heavily on an unorthodox mix of social media, unfiltered rhetoric and a knack for winning free TV time, the New York real estate businessman likely paid less than $US5 per vote.

That was about half what Mrs Clinton paid, according to a Reuters analysis of campaign finance records and voting data. Those figures assumed the candidates spent all the funds they raised.

Mr Trump's cost-effective win has upended prevailing concepts about the influence of money in United States politics and raised the question of whether a lean, media-savvy campaign can become the new model for winning office there.

Political strategists and academics tended to agree, however, that Mr Trump's performance would be tough to repeat.

A household name for his luxury brand resorts, reality TV stardom, and with the ability to surround himself with non-stop controversy, Mr Trump held advantages many political candidates lacked.

"I think this is a case where Trump had unique characteristics as a candidate that allowed him to pursue a different type of strategy," Maine's Colby College professor of government Tony Corrado said.

In total, Trump had raised at least $US270 million since launching his campaign in June 2015, a little more than a third of the money that Barack Obama's re-election campaign spent in 2012 according to the most recent filings with the Federal Elections Commission.

With vote counting wrapping up in the early hours of Wednesday, Trump had won about 59 million votes in the general election. That amounted to less than $5 per vote for $270 million spent.

According to data analytics firm mediaQuant, Mr Trump garnered about $5 billion worth of free media coverage during the election campaign, more than twice the amount earned by Mrs Clinton, a lifelong politician who served as secretary of state, senator, and first lady at different times in her career.

The firm added up all the unpaid coverage the candidates had in newspapers, magazines and social media and then compares the sum to what a comparable amount of coverage, with the same kind of reach, would have cost in advertising.

Mr Trump also frequently dominated news cycles with provocative rhetoric that broke taboos, including unabashed insults targeting women he dislikes over Twitter, or unusual policy proscriptions like his call to ban Muslims from entering the country to prevent domestic attacks or force Mexico to pay for a multi-billion dollar border wall.

Big donors

Mr Trump made his self-funding a selling point early in his campaign as he fended off 16 Republican rivals for the party nomination, arguing that by eschewing big donors he was not beholden to special interests.

But once he secured the nomination, Trump changed course and began fundraising in earnest, replicating the small-dollar fundraising juggernaut of insurgent Democrat candidate Vermont senator Bernie Sanders along the way.

Mrs Clinton raised at least $521 million, according to filings.

The former secretary of state stuck to the more traditional campaigning model of launching expensive television ads and funding hundreds of staffers who fanned across the country to work to increase voter turnout on Election Day.

She spent more than $237 million on television ads and more than $42 million on hundreds of staffers.

She also benefited from spending by the Super PACs supporting her candidacy, which are allowed to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money but could not coordinate directly with her campaign.

More than a dozen people, including hedge-fund magnate Donald Sussman and global financier George Soros, wrote multimillion-dollar checks to Priorities USA, the primary PAC supporting her campaign, according to filings.

University of Michigan political science professor Michael Traugott said the traditional US model for picking presidents might seem odd to people in other nations, where campaigns were shorter and required less cash.

"The system is clearly broken," Traugott said.

- Reuters

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