Trump raises more money than Biden in Michigan, even amid the pandemic

Former Vice President Joe Biden in Detroit, March 9, 2020. Detroit was the second-biggest source of Biden contributions, with a total of $144,000. | Andrew Roth

President Donald Trump may be lagging in most statewide polls in Michigan, but there is one critical area where he is performing better than Joe Biden, and that’s fundraising.

Trump has amassed $5.8 million from Michigan donors, according to federal records, compared to $2.7 million for Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee. The Republican president has also received far more donations overall. 

Trump’s campaign took in 100,000 donations, compared to Biden’s 31,000. (One person can donate several times to a campaign, up to $2,800 for the primary election and the same for the general election.) The most lucrative towns for each candidate? For Trump, it was Grand Rapids and for Biden, Ann Arbor.

Although most of Trump’s advantage can be explained by the long head start he had over Biden, the president still outraised Biden in terms of dollars and donations from April through June of this year.

Trump received $1.8 million from Michigan residents during that period, a tumultuous time when the president feuded with Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer over the federal government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. The president lost ground to Biden in head-to-head polling of Michigan voters from March through June, but still took in half a million dollars more from Michigan residents than his Democratic rival while those events unfolded.

The president’s edge in Michigan fundraising this spring and early summer only adds to his considerable overall advantage. Trump started raising money for his re-election bid almost as soon as he was sworn into office in 2017, and his campaign took in $760,000 of Michigan money before 2018, when Biden formally joined the race.

Biden, by contrast, faced competition from other Democrats for his party’s nomination until the middle of April, when U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent, dropped his bid. 

The numbers reflect so-called “hard money” alone, cash contributed directly to a candidate’s campaign.

The Trump campaign attributes the president’s fundraising advantage in Michigan and nationwide to the popularity of his policies. The campaign has played up tax cuts Republicans passed in 2017, the growth of the auto industry in Michigan during Trump’s tenure, his opposition to trade deals like NAFTA and the president’s support of fossil fuels.

Trump in Grand Rapids
President Donald Trump speaks to supporters during a rally on March 28, 2019 in Grand Rapids. The president has received more campaign donations from Grand Rapids than any other city in the state. | Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

“Since President Trump was elected, he’s consistently delivered for Michigan as he’s strengthened the economy and created jobs—and [Michiganders] don’t want to go back to the days of Democrats’ lip service and failed policies,” said Samantha Zager, a spokesperson for the Trump campaign. 

“The more Michigan voters find out about the socialist platform Joe Biden and [vice presidential candidate] Kamala Harris have adopted, we’re confident they’ll continue to support President Trump’s America First agenda,” she added.

But Matt Grossmann, a Michigan State political science professor and director of the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research, said the bigger haul by the Trump campaign may also reflect its aggressive use of social media to solicit donations.

“Last year we had this debate where people were saying, ‘Oh, Trump is spending a lot more online, are the Democrats going to catch up?’” he said. “What was left out of that debate was that almost all of it was fundraising ads. It wasn’t what you’d expect: to move swing voters. It was very red-meat, conservative messages that were designed to increase the fundraising list.”

The Trump campaign has spent heavily on Facebook ads, even though it sometimes gets very little money in return. Grossmann said the strategy seems to be that the campaign is building a roster of potential donors that it can go back to over and over again, to keep raising money.

The Biden campaign, on the other hand, has used a more traditional fundraising model for its campaign. “He’s not Bernie Sanders. He doesn’t have a lot of infrastructure in place and a grassroots army of people willing to chip in two or three dollars every time there’s a fundraising call,” said Simon Schuster, the executive director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.

Outside groups that obscure the source of their funding, often called “dark money” groups, will play a big role in shaping the November election, too, Schuster noted. Some of Michigan’s biggest political players, including the family of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, have supported Republican- leaning dark money groups. But nationally, a “constellation” of dark money groups with different ideological bents are poised to support Biden’s candidacy, Schuster said.

The Biden campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

The different strategies could be one reason why the Trump campaign has received donations from a wider swath of Michigan than the Biden campaign, which has used more traditional fundraising methods. People living in more than 900 Michigan ZIP codes wrote checks for the Trump campaign, compared to about 600 for the Biden campaign.

Both the Biden and Trump campaigns relied heavily on suburban Detroit —particularly Oakland County and the Grosse Pointe area—as some of their biggest sources for donations. 

Biden also did particularly well in the university towns of Ann Arbor and East Lansing. In fact, Biden took in more money from Ann Arbor addresses than from those of any other city. The hometown of the University of Michigan gave $346,000 to the Biden campaign. Detroit was the second-biggest source of Biden contributions, with a total of $144,000.

The Trump campaign, by comparison, took in $93,000 from Ann Arbor and $36,000 from Detroit.

For the Trump campaign, Grand Rapids provided more money than any other Michigan city. The president brought in $202,000 from the western Michigan city. Holland, another western Michigan city, provided another $87,000.

Biden raised $89,000 from Grand Rapids and $18,000 from Holland.

Schuster said Biden shouldn’t necessarily be worried about falling behind Trump in raising money in Michigan, but the numbers do offer some good news for the president.

“I wouldn’t say that donations are a good barometer for electoral support, but donations are often a good indication of enthusiasm among your base,” Schuster said. “Trump can be heartened to know that, among his base, his supporters are still pretty enthusiastic.”