With Gustavo Schneider, Jennifer Savary, and Anastasiya Pocheptsova Ghosh. In preparation for submission to Journal of Marketing Research.

Small donor contributions are an increasingly important form of political participation, yet the decision-making processes of such donors have not been examined in the political marketing literature. We examine the choice of small donors to engage in a novel form of campaign contributions: the purchase of branded candidate merchandise (vs. monetary donation). We investigate the motivations underlying small donor contributions, and demonstrate how candidate position- ing (as an underdog vs. favorite) influences the choice of contribution format. Using experimental and survey designs, we measure real and intended small campaign contributions of consumers immediately before the 2016 Presidential and 2018 Congressional elections. We supplement these findings by analyzing real contributions data from Federal Election Commission filings and Google trends data for the Presidential elections of 2008 and 2016. Regardless of political ideology or election type, we find that supporters of an underdog candidate are more likely to purchase merchandise to support their candidate relative to supporters of a favorite candidate. For campaign managers, this suggests a way to influence contribution mix based on their candidate’s positioning.

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