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Obama’s Donor Base for 2012: What We Know, What We Don’t

President Obama shakes hands with people after speaking about immigration reform in May in El Paso, Texas. Photo by Pete Souza/White House

President Obama shakes hands with people after speaking about immigration reform in May in El Paso, Texas. Photo by Pete Souza/White House

President Obama’s public approval numbers may be down, but he still has a large number of supporters — and they are ponying up for his re-election bid. In the second quarter alone, he took in more than $33 million in individual campaign donations.

But what does Mr. Obama’s donor and support base look like in the eyes of Patchwork Nation’s 12 county types? In the second quarter it was heavily based in urban and suburban America, but it ran through the exurbs and college towns as well.

The picture, however, is far from complete. The majority of Mr. Obama’s quarterly contributions were impossible to follow, coming in the form donations small enough that they are categorized as un-itemized, meaning collected without the names and addresses of the contributors.

Two things stand out when you look closely at the breakdown of the Obama campaign’s latest itemized quarterly donations.

First, the donations are coming from “the right places,” as far as the Obama team is concerned. They are coming from the big-city Industrial Metropolis counties and the wealthy Monied Burbs, the two county types Democrats have to win if they want the White House.

Second, the spread of itemized donations bears a striking resemblance to those of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts.

Getting Money From the Places He Needs Votes

There are many ways to raise money beyond individual donations, of course. A 2010 Supreme Court ruling made it possible for political action committees to take in unlimited donations that they can spend in support of candidates they support.

But individual donations are more than just money, they are votes with dollars — and the votes in the president’s fiscal ballot box are coming from the places he needs in order to be re-elected.

More than 64 percent of President Obama’s itemized donations in the second quarter came from the nation’s 41 Industrial Metropolis counties, which hold the biggest cities, and the 285 Monied Burb counties that sit around them. Look at the map below and you’ll notice a lot of dark green around the nation’s biggest cities – from metro New York to Chicagoland to the Bay Area.

In terms of proportions, Mr. Obama and Romney are drawing the same amount from the big Industrial Metro counties and the wealthy Monied Burbs: 64 percent. In other words, the biggest parts of their donation bases look like they’re coming from the same types of places.

Is that a positive for Romney or a sign of concern for Mr. Obama? That depends.

First, remember that a majority of President Obama’s donations are un-itemized and could come from anywhere. But even if the Obama/Romney donation footprints are close, it’s not clear who benefits.

Yes, Romney could argue he is better equipped to go head-to-head with Mr. Obama in the places the president needs most. That’s certainly a reasonable strategy for taking on a struggling incumbent.

But even if Romney can battle better in places President Obama needs to win in 2012, there’s nothing saying it would be enough. And if Romney doesn’t get the votes he needs from Republican strongholds, it could be for naught anyway.

Other Republican candidates, like Rep. Ron Paul, whose donations we also looked at Thursday, will likely argue their donation base is better because it fires up voters not in the president’s donation base.

That will likely be a discussion among GOP voters and campaigns for the next few months. In the meantime, the Obama camp will likely feel confident that it is collecting money in places it knows it needs to win to recapture the White House.

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