Updated: Oct 25, 2020
UPDATE: In the final week our recommendation is to donate to flip the Texas State House here. Donations will be used on highly efficient digital ads where the spend can be increased easily as more funds come in. This is our top recommendation right now.
Since Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s passing, more than $100 million dollars have been donated to Democratic candidates. The energy and urgency around this election is clear. However, is the money going where it can make the biggest impact?
Republican candidates have out-raised Democratic candidates in the critical states of Florida and Texas. Women and minority candidates are underfunded. Click here to go straight to our ActBlue page which allocates funds to the 10 state house races where we believe your money will have the biggest impact. You can also explore the data in our interactive tool here.
Here’s how we determined which races to fund:
At Data 2 the People we have been working on 2020 elections up and down the ballot, and in the course of our work we have collected data on many different races. We want to help people sort through the data to find the races that need the money most. We’re excited to share our work: aggregated election data from across states and races to find candidates we believe are most in need of funds.
To start, we’ve focused on historical election outcome data and current fundraising data for the 2020 cycle. We’ve identified 61 priority state legislature races and have highlighted five of our top races below. Our goal is to be transparent about our process so that we all can make clearer decisions, and so that Democrats can win big in November, up and down the ballot!
1. First we selected states.
2. Second, we analyzed the funding data so we could understand where to look.
3. Third, we selected candidates within states, for each level of government.
4. Finally, we ranked the list of candidates.
We will update this analysis as we collect additional fundraising data and welcome your comments and ideas!
Go here to donate easily to our priority state legislature races via ActBlue.
Step One | State Selection
There are some states that are more important than others in 2020.
This first phase of analysis focuses on 14 states (Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin) selected based on three categories of election importance:
Presidential Swing States (selected based on FiveThirtyEight forecasting)
Senate Swing States (selected based on FiveThirtyEight forecasting)
State Legislatures with the power to redistrict (selected based on Princeton Election Consortium analysis)
Some states fall into more than one category or have additional important features. For example, in Missouri, Kansas, and Indiana the Republicans hold a supermajority at the state legislative level, and in Missouri there’s also a ballot initiative, Amendment 3, which would allow for more partisan gerrymandering in the state.
For now, we have limited our analysis to states with more straightforward election formats. However, in the future, we will plan to add more states (such as Maine with its ranked choice voting, or Arizona with its multi-candidate system) and more races, providing a more complete picture of the 2020 election.
Step Two | Analysis of High-level Funding Differences by Party & State
With a narrowed pool of states and race types, we wanted to understand funding levels across race types to see, at a high-level, where there might be over-funded and under-funded races. The federal Senate races in these states are more well funded ($167M raised by Democrats vs. $153M raised by Republicans), whereas at the state legislature level Democratic state house candidates have raised less than Republican candidates ($98M by Democrats vs. $108M by Republicans).
For U.S. Senate races, we see that Democratic candidates have raised more money than their Republican opponents in many of the states. The numbers are big—on average $17M for the Democratic candidate and $15M for the Republican candidate. Many of the races do not have a Democratic candidate currently in the seat, and because it often takes more dollars to take a seat from a Republican incumbent, and because that incumbent may have reserves from previous races, it makes sense that the Democratic candidate has raised more to compete (for example, in 2018 the most extreme case was $80M spent by Beto vs $40M by Ted Cruz in TX).
In 2020, Texas is a striking example where the Republican has raised much more money than the Democratic candidate—though polling indicates that this race is less close than other Senate contests. In Michigan, the Democratic incumbent is being out-raised slightly and in Montana, the Democratic candidate has been slightly out-raised by the Republican incumbent.
The Center for Responsible Politics website here has data on all Senate races
In Colorado, Iowa, and Montana the funding is close and the Democratic candidate is challenging an incumbent, so these candidates likely need more funding.
Now turning to the State legislatures where we see Democratic candidates outspent in aggregate, we also see interesting results by state:
In a few states, Republican candidates have out-raised Democratic candidates by a lot: Florida, Texas, Indiana (the most Republican leaning of our list). In other states Democratic candidates are ahead.
The most troubling gaps are found in Florida and Texas, because both are key states where the state legislature will draw new district lines after the census. If Republicans are in charge, there is a high potential for gerrymandering, which would change the balance of power for a decade.
Two high level goals for State legislatures are flipping chambers to be Democratic controlled and breaking Republican supermajorities (states where Republicans hold more than ⅔ of seats and therefore do not not need to work with Democrats to pass certain legislation).
Individual races matter for understanding where we can flip a chamber or prevent a super majority. We look at the difference in the vote share in 2018 compared to the funding difference in 2018 to see how they related that cycle:
There are indeed some races where the Democratic candidate vote difference was very small (close to the horizontal line) and the Republican raised more money. We also see that for competitive races in our focus states there are a few outliers where the Republican candidate spent vastly more money (TX 23, TX 25, and PA 28).
In 2020 we definitely see some raises that are outliers again, and then others where the funding is close. This gives us a framework to look into which races to focus on!
Step Three | Select Specific Candidates
At this point, after RBG’s passing, we suspect both Republicans and Democrats will be pouring money into federal Senate races. So, we recommend giving to Senate candidates even if the Democratic candidate has more money. In particular, Colorado, Iowa, and Montana would be good races to give to, because the Democratic and Republican candidates have similar funding, but the Democratic candidate is challenging an incumbent Republican so may need more.
Aggregating current fundraising data and historical election results, we used three criteria to select potential state legislative races based on 2018 data:
The seat is currently held by a Democrat, but the 2018 margin of victory was less than 10 percentage points and the Democratic candidate had to outspend their opponent by a factor of 2 or more
[The converse of Criteria 1] The seat is currently held by a Republican, but the 2018 margin of victory was less than 10 percentage points and the Republican candidate had to outspend their opponent by a factor of 2 or more
The seat is currently held by a Republican but the race was decided by a very small number of votes (less than 2,000) and the Democratic candidate was outspent
To do this analysis, some states from our initial list were removed for this first phase because they require additional data processing due to idiosyncrasies in their election processes (i.e., fundraising reporting differences, or runoff elections, or multiple candidates can win for a given position)
This analysis produced 61 candidates, all of which can be found here. The breakdown of number of races by state is here:
The most candidates are in Texas and Florida, because, as noted above, the funding gaps are biggest there. Some of the states are indeed less important for the state legislature itself because there is already a Democratic majority, but we include them because we believe there can be a “trickle up” effect where if a local candidate turns out Democratic voters those voters will vote for Biden or the competitive Senate race in that state.
We then further limited candidates based on 2020 fundraising data using the following rules:
If the Democratic candidate is running as an incumbent in 2020 and they have currently raised 50% more than their opponent, we’ve excluded them
If the Republican candidate is running as an incumbent in 2020 but the Democratic candidate has currently raised 100% more than the Republican, we’ve excluded them
72% of the candidates we have identified are female and 21% are under represented minorities. We did not collect data on gender and race for the races we did not identify. That said, we suspect that this indicates that women and underrepresented minorities are more likely to be underfunded.
Step Four | Rank Races
To prioritize among these candidates, we’ve ranked using two criteria. We initially looked at the votes per dollar for candidates in 2018 and forecasted that, but the results were confusing because of some idiosyncratic data, so we simplified.
First we categorize each race into three categories depending on 2018 vote outcome:
“Toss Up” - where the vote margin was within 5-points on either side.
“Slight Rep” - where the Republican won in 2018 by between 5- and 10-points
“Slight Dem” - where the Democrat won in 2018 by between 5- and 10-points
Second, we sort by the ratio of Republican to Democratic candidate 2020 funding.
You can view the data in our interactive tool here.
The sorted list is here.
State Legislature Races Highlights:
Democratic Candidate: Keke Williams
Republican Candidate: Brad Buckley (Incumbent)
Why we like Keke: Texas needs to flip 9 seats in the legislature to break the Republican majority and ensure fair redistricting after the 2020 census. In 2018, the Democratic candidate for this seat lost by less than 4,000 votes, but was out-raised by more than 15 to 1. Today, Keke has narrowed the funding gap to 3 to 1 but is still behind with only $66k compared to the $180k raised by Brad Buckley, the Republican incumbent. Keke is an army veteran who is endorsed by the AFL-CIO, the Sierra Club, and Texas Democrats with Disabilities. Brad Buckley the Republican incumbent has an F rating from Equality Texas and a score of 60/100 on Environment Texas’s 2019 scorecard. Learn more about Keke. Donate to Keke.
Democratic Candidate: Franccesca Cesti-Browne
Republican Candidate: Vance Aloupis (Incumbent)
Why we like Franccesca: Florida is a critical swing state for the Presidential. It also has a Republican trifecta at the state level (meaning that Republicans hold a majority of seats in the State legislature and also there is a Republican Governor). Democrats need to flip 14 seats in the state House to win a majority in that chamber. District 115‒a district that Hilary Clinton won in 2016, but is currently held by a Republican‒is ready to be flipped Blue. The 2018 race was decided by 579 votes, despite the Republican candidate (now incumbent), Vance Aloupis, out fundraising his opponent by 4x. Today, Franccesca has narrowed that fundraising gap to 3 to 1 and secured endorsements from Emily’s List, the NRDC, and Run for Something. Given the tiny margin of victory in 2018 and Clinton’s success in 2016, we think that with additional support Franccesca can win.
Democratic Candidate: Shelly Stotts
Republican Candidate: Phil Thompson (Incumbent)
Why we like Shelly: Iowa is four seats away from a Democratic State House and Shelly is one of the best possible candidates to make that happen. In 2018, the Democratic candidate lost their race by just under 900 votes, even though they raised only 38% as much money as their opponent, which shows the district could be promising for Democrats. Additionally, while the district voted for Trump in 2016, Obama garnered 51% of the vote in 2012. In 2020, Shelly has raised quite a bit less than her Republican counterpart, but the race overall has raised much less, meaning even just a small amount of cash could help Shelly to clinch the seat. Shelly spent 35 years as a classroom teacher. Phil previously worked at the National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action. He has a 0/100 on the AFL-CIO 2019 legislative scorecard. Learn more about Shelly. Donate to Shelly.
Democratic Candidate: Mitch Gore
Republican Candidate: Cindy Kirchhofer (Incumbent)
Why we like Mitch: Indiana is just one seat away from breaking a Republican supermajority and we bring you our top choice for breaking that supermajority. Mitch, a Captain with the Marion County Sheriff's Office, has been endorsed by a number of officials and organizations, including Run for Something, which picks young, promising progressive candidates like Mitch. Mitch’s opponent, Republican Cindy Kirchhofer, won her reelection in 2018 by just 218 votes, even though she had raised more than 5 times as much money as her then-competitor. This year, while Mitch is still slightly behind in fundraising as compared to Cindy, he only has to make up a gap of $13,500 (as of publication). Mitch’s fundraising position is vastly better than in past races, and further donations to help close this gap could help Mitch flip this long-held Republican seat blue. Republicans currently control Indiana entirely, and with plans to redistrict in 2021, this is a very high leverage seat. Learn more about Mitch. Donate to Mitch.
Democratic Candidate: Lynn Grant
Republican Candidate: Kenneth Collins (Incumbent)
Why we like Lynn: Kansas is just one seat away from breaking a Republican supermajority and we bring you a top choice for breaking that supermajority. Lynn is running in Kansas District 2, which was decided by just 72 votes in 2018. Currently, Lynn’s competitor has out-raised her, but only by $3,000 at the time of analysis, and the gap is dwindling. This race could tighten very easily. If elected, Lynn would advocate for Medicaid expansion and fight against food insecurity, which is a growing problem in Kansas. A win for Lynn could make for a fairer, more balanced legislature for Kansas. Learn more about Lynn. Donate to Lynn.
We plan to add US Congressional races and Arizona and Maine, which we were not able to include so far.
We also will share back results from all of the races we are highlighting! Sometimes giving to down-ballot candidates feels hard to track, so we want to make it easy for our audience to share in the successes they’ve contributed to building by sharing the outcomes of these elections. Stay tuned.
Please reach out with questions and comments. And please donate!