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Right-roots vs Net-roots: Whose Online Donor Base is Bigger?

BY Micah L. Sifry | Friday, March 5 2010

How big are the right-roots? And how do they stack up against the net-roots? I've been asking that question of various people lately, and also looking at some of the metrics available, as both sides of the American political spectrum continue to grow and flex their online muscles in this turbulent season. Here's some relevant data regarding their respective online donor bases.

On a PdF Network call yesterday with Rob Willington, director of RebuildtheParty.com and the new media director for Scott Brown's upstart victory in the Massachusetts Senate race in January, I asked whether the 100,000 or so donors to the Brown campaign--which raised a whopping $12 million in a matter of weeks--were a good measure of the right-roots base? Willington tended to agree, after noting the some proportion of that money came from inside Massachusetts. That's a very impressive number, though it's important to note that there's no one place where that list of 100,000 resides (other than Brown's campaign finance database) where it can be tapped for other causes.

Other Republican candidates--Marco Rubio, Sean Duffy, and Rand Paul have been playing the "moneybomb" card of late, seeking to also tap the dispersed enthusiasm of right-roots activists around the country, but none of them have succeeded in topping Brown's high-water mark. Indeed, a number of these so-called "money-bombs" have been more like money-duds, or money-sparklers. Personally, I think we should reserve the term for campaigns that actually are transparent about the donations that are pledged and come in, in real time, the way Ron Paul's activist base originated the tactic.

Over on the left, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, which is one of the two or three most important organizing hubs for the net-roots, currently shows a little over 50,000 individual donors on its ActBlue page. Democracy for America, the continuation of the Dean campaign from 2004, shows nearly 33,000 individual donors on ActBlue. Congressman Alan Grayson, who is running for re-election in Florida, reports raising nearly a million dollars from about 15,000 individual donors online in the last three months; as far as I know that is the most any individual House member has done recently, though both Joe Wilson on the right and Rob Miller on the left saw much bigger surges in online support last September.

In institutional terms, the netroots still seems to have an advantage over the rightroots thanks to the fundraising hub ActBlue. On a monthly basis, ActBlue reports that about 31,000 people contributed to a cause on the site in the month of February, "nearly double the 16,545 from two years ago." That is, the level of participation on ActBlue is twice as high now as it was in the heat of the presidential election. This could be explained in part by the fact that most Democrats were probably giving directly to one of the presidential candidates in February 2008, rather than thru ActBlue, but the overall trend is still important. ActBlue reports that "The total money raised increased by more than 500k over 2008 and the average contribution size was about 30% smaller. Finally, the number of fundraising pages created and receiving funds were both significantly higher."

This isn't counting the leviathan of left-wing online organizations, MoveOn.org, which isn't as transparent about its money-raising. But if the 1.1 million messages mobilized by MoveOn in one day of health care reform organizing is any measure, the group probably has a core base of several hundred thousand activists who will take part in big pushes around an urgent call.

I'm going to look at some other measures of online activity--traffic to website, online buzz--in the coming days. But this first look suggests that while the energy and momentum appears to be on the right, the left hasn't gone to sleep. 2010 could be shaping up to be a battle of online titans.