The figure shows the ideology of Joe Wilson’s contributors leading up to and following his outburst during the President’s health care speech. Each point represents the ideology of an individual contributor (higher points are more conservative) and is scaled by donation amount. What I find striking about the figure is not so much the spike in contributions following the outburst but rather that a large percentage of his post-outburst donors were more conservative than anyone who had given to him before. Many of the far-right donors that Wilson activated were the same people who later made up the core of the Tea Party’s fundraising base.
Bonica goes on to summarize some forthcoming research, which is worth remembering next time we hear paeans to small donors:
I’ve been researching the effect of small donors on elections and have found their influence to be highly polarizing…A small donor network has become fashionable on the Hill and badge of honor on the campaign trail. Yet despite enjoying a reputation as protectors of democracy, small donors tend to be ideological warriors out to reward polarizing rhetoric and to punish bipartisanship.