It’s hard not to see the potential of a 2020 Bernie Sanders presidential bid. He served notice to the rest of the Democratic herd when his campaign announced that he raised $5.9 million in its first 24 hours of existence. That’s million of dollars more than he raised in the first 24 hours of his 2016 bid and millions more than any of his Democratic competitors have so far announced.
Primary winners tend to lead in early fundraising. The list includes: Walter Mondale in 1984, George H.W. Bush in 1988, Michael Dukakis in 1988, Bob Dole in 1996, George W. Bush in 2000, Al Gore in 2000, Mitt Romney in 2012 and Hillary Clinton in 2016. A number of them did not, however: Ronald Reagan in 1980, John Kerry in 2004, John McCain in 2008, Barack Obama in 2008 and Donald Trump in 2016.
But, history suggests that fundraising doesn’t tell us much in forecasting primary winners once we account for early polling.
Here’s the bottom line: When fundraising tells one story and early polling tells another about who is most likely to win the nomination, early polling is more likely to be predictive.
The majority of candidates who won their parties nomination led the field in early fundraising. Most people who run for president don’t win their party’s nominations, so something that is associated with winning a majority of the time is notable.
But early fundraising, though, isn’t as clear in telling us something more than the early polls do.
It will be important to see where the polls end up if Biden decides not run. We’ll get a better understanding of how resistant some Democrats are to Sanders’ candidacy. A clear Sanders lead without Biden in the race would again be suggestive of a stronger Sanders’ bid that conventional wisdom generally holds.