The fundraising numbers are so good for Democrats — and so bad for Republicans — that it’s a little bit hard to know quite what to make of them. From a modelling standpoint, we’re extrapolating from years in which fundraising was relatively even, or from when one party had a modest edge, into an environment where Democrats suddenly have a 2-1 advantage in fundraising in competitive races. Moreover, this edge comes despite the fact that a large number of these competitive races feature Republican incumbents (incumbents usually have an easier time raising money than challengers) and that most of them are in red terrain.
If Democrats beat their projections on Nov. 6 — say, they win 63 House seats, equalling the number that Republicans won in 2010, an unlikely-but-not-impossible scenario — we may look back on these fundraising numbers as the canary in the coal mine. That data, plus Democrats’ very strong performances in special elections, could look like tangible signs of a Democratic turnout surge that pollsters and pundits perhaps won’t have paid enough attention to. Right now, in fact, the polls are not showing a Democratic turnout advantage. Instead, based on a comparison of likely-voter and registered-voter polls, they’re projecting roughly equal turnout between the parties, with Republicans’ demographic advantages (older, whiter voters typically vote at higher rates at the midterms) counteracting Democrats’ seemingly higher enthusiasm. If turnout among Democratic-leaning groups actually outpaces that among Republican-leaning ones, Democrats will beat their polls and our projections.
It’s just as easy to imagine the error running the other way, however. Maybe, precisely because fundraising has become easier, including winning contributions from out-of-state and out-of-district donors, it’s no longer as meaningful an indicator of candidates’ grassroots appeal or organizational strength. Maybe the demographics of the Republican coalition have changed such that they’ll no longer raise as much money but will still get plenty of votes. Or maybe the GOP can make up for their lack of individual fundraising with more money from outside groups. If that’s the case, our model could overestimate Democrats’ chances. Although, I should note that while there’s a gap between our Lite forecast, which is based on local and national polls only, and our Classic forecast, which also incorporates fundraising and other “fundamentals” data, it’s not an especially large one. (Lite projects Democrats to pick up 36 seats, on average, as compared to 39 in Classic.)