What can the average citizen get for donating to a presidential campaign?
Best-case scenario: the president he or she wants. But there’s a heck of a long reach from a $10, $20 or even few-hundred-dollar donation from an individual to securing his or her preferred nominee’s place in the White House. Any candidate on the campaign trail will tell you that every penny counts, but the statistical odds of any one voter’s contribution resulting in the financial linchpin that puts a presidential hopeful over the top are incalculable; from a pure return-on-investment standpoint, the person would be better off playing the lottery.
If a U.S. citizen is going to give something (i.e., money) and quite possibly get nothing (i.e., the recipient of their donation not ending up as president) in return, then, that’s simply ineffective commerce. Presidential campaign strategists have been aware of this for many years and, as a result, increasingly reward individual contributions with something that everybody wants:
Want to give a terrifying billionaire $25? Have a hat for your trouble.
You feeling the Bern? Twenty bucks will get you the action figure version of the Vermont senator.
Care to learn how to color with Ted Cruz? Ten dollars will get you a book to facilitate that (coherent writing and/or branding lessons presumably not included, given that the book is called “We ‘C’ Ted Cruz for President”).
Feeling down because your man Jeb is out of the running? While his “Guaca Bowle” guacamole bowl is no longer available on his official campaign website (the only thing on there, predictably, is sadness), you can still purchase one through third-party sellers — at the original price of $75 — and use it to maybe mash your tears into some avocado.
Every person currently running for U.S. president — from frontrunners to those kidding themselves — has a range of nominee-branded merchandise available for purchase, with the money exchanged for those goods doubling as a campaign contribution, and selling something tangible, instead of just promises (albeit along with those promises), can result in a lot more than pocket change.
Of the $2.6 million that Donald Trump — who currently does not have the backing of any Super PAC — raised in the last three months of 2015, 75 percent came from merchandise, according to Reuters, which notes that only about $540,000 of that total came from individuals who gave more than $200.
The value of retail commerce is likely even more substantial for Bernie Sanders — who, like Trump, does not accept donations from Super PACs but, unlike the current Republican frontrunner, does not have a personal stash of billions to rely upon to fund his campaign. In its tracking of sales of politically affiliated retail sales, CafePress notes that, for six consecutive weeks going back to Jan. 11, Sanders merchandise has outsold of all of his rivals in either party.
That retail differential is not a great sign for Hillary Clinton’s campaign, as CNNMoney points out that CafePress’ sales data has accurately predicted the outcomes of the last three presidential elections. While Clinton is the establishment candidate for the Democratic party — and, accordingly, still enjoys a substantial amount of backing from Wall Street — that her first definitive caucus win over Sanders only just came last weekend in Nevada (following a loss to her upstart in-party rival in New Hampshire and, before that, a “virtual tie” in Iowa) is — at least behind closed doors — likely cold comfort against the reality that she is significantly trailing Sanders in the metric that seems to carry increasing weight with each presidential election.
For better or for worse, success in politics — even at the highest level — like so many other competitive businesses, is largely determined by branding. And it stands to reason that the more consumers there are that want to purchase a particular brand (in this case, apparel, stickers, pins and everything thing in between touting an individual’s name), the more likely it is that the brand will stick around … perhaps all the way to the White House.
(At the same time, it is yet to be determined how effective “Make America Great” trucker hats will be in protecting citizens from the raining hellfire that a potential — and not entirely implausible — Trump presidency portends.)