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There’s essentially no chance that Donald Trump’s campaign will raise $1 billion

- July 17, 2016

In May, Donald Trump tried to counter doubts about his fundraising ability by suggesting that he and the RNC could raise $1 billion. But those doubts remain. Although last month he managed to raise $26 million, plus another $25 million in conjunction with the Republican National Committee, he continues to lag behind Hillary Clinton. Clinton and outside groups associated with her have raised about $314 million so far. Trump and outside groups have raised $66 million.

We put this issue to the forecasters at Good Judgment, as part of our ongoing election forecasting tournament. As usual, they have been asked to make a specific, concrete forecast that can be verified after the election: “As of 1 November 2016, how much money will the Center for Responsive Politics report that Donald Trump’s campaign committee and outside groups have spent on his campaign?” Note that this doesn’t include fundraising by the RNC.

Their responses reveal little confidence in Trump’s fundraising ability. Here’s a graph of the forecast over time:


Forecasters give Trump and affiliated groups a 44 percent probability of spending between $250 million and $500 million. They give him a slightly lower probability of spending $500 to $750 million. To put that in perspective, Romney and affiliated groups spent $1.25 billion.

In fact, there is a significant chance that Trump could end up spending less than John McCain did in 2008, even though McCain accepted public financing and was limited to only $84 million worth of spending in the fall campaign and even though in 2008 super PACs weren’t able to raise as much as they do now.

McCain’s total haul in the 2008 cycle was about $368 million. That translates to $412 million in current dollars. Could Trump end up raising less? We did not ask the forecasters to make a precise prediction, but if there’s a 44 percent chance that Trump will raise between $250 million and $500 million, then there is certainly a real chance that he raises less than $412 million.

Note, too, that the news about Trump’s June fundraising, which came in early July, actually made forecasters slightly less confident in his fundraising ability — a fact that I think runs counter to the dominant frame of news coverage, which emphasized that his June total was surprisingly high.

What about that billion dollars? A month after Trump tossed out the billion-dollar figure, he distanced himself from that prediction, saying “There’s no reason to raise that.” Perhaps he should have said “There’s no chance I’ll raise that.” Forecasters literally gave this outcome a zero percent chance.