How Issue Positions Affect Candidate Performance: Experiments Comparing Campaign Donors and the Mass Public
In light of important limitations in using observed contribution behavior or surveys to assess how donors respond to candidate issue positions, we present novel experimental evidence about how habitual donors (individuals who contribute above average amounts, multiple times, and in consecutive elections) respond to candidate issue positions. Using a vignette design, we provide causal evidence about the support for two types of divergence from typical candidate issue position bundles—being too extreme or bipartisan. We show “typical” candidates outperform all others in terms of likelihood of attracting donations, primary votes, and general election votes. We also find that donors’ responsiveness to positions vis-à-vis a non-donor sample is not solely driven by partisan intensity and key demographics (i.e., high educated, high income, age, etc.). These results provide evidence that party-consistent positioning among candidates and incumbents may be reinforced by donors’ opposition to issue positions that diverge from the party-standard.
KeywordsDonors Experiments Campaign finance Polarization Congressional elections Issue positions
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