Politics·Analysis

Conservatives raised the most money in 2019 election, but lost their edge in final stretch

At the outset of the 2019 campaign, the Conservatives were the fundraising kings. They lost their crown to the Liberals and the NDP by the end.

In the last 2 weeks of the campaign, both the Liberals and NDP raised more money than the Conservatives

The Conservatives under Andrew Scheer (left) led the way in early fundraising during the election campaign, but were beaten by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberals (centre) and Jagmeet Singh's new Democrats (right) in the last stages of the campaign. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press; Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press; Ben Nelms/CBC)

As the 2019 federal election campaign began, the Conservatives were out-fundraising their competitors by a significant margin. But as the campaign wore on, the Conservatives lost their advantage to the Liberals — and to the NDP, which saw a surge in donations in the final two weeks.

The party fundraising returns covering the campaign offer a revealing glimpse of how successful each party was in getting donations from their supporters, and the impact events during the campaign itself had on the willingness of Canadians to open their wallets.

The final quarterly fundraising returns from 2019 were published by Elections Canada last week. It's possible to isolate some of the donations made during the campaign (from Sept. 11 to Oct. 21), but only those of at least $200. Donations of less than $200 aren't individually listed.

Still, those bigger donations represent a big chunk of the money each party raises. In the last half of 2019, which includes the campaign period, most of the money raised by the Liberals (62 per cent), New Democrats (56 per cent) and Conservatives (51 per cent) came from donations of $200 or more.

With some reasonable assumptions — that the ratio of donations greater than and less than $200 was constant throughout the last six months of 2019, including the campaign period — it is possible to estimate how much money each party raised in each week of the campaign.

Conservatives were out in front early

In the first week, the Conservatives raised $779,000 from donations of $200 or more, edging out the Liberals, who raised $607,000. Adjusting for the unpublished donations of $200 or less (an adjustment we'll also use for the fundraising figures in the rest of this analysis), that would put Conservative fundraising at about $1.53 million in the first week, compared to about $980,000 for the Liberals.

Those figures put the two front-running parties well ahead of the competition. The Greens were in third, raising $510,000 in the opening week, well ahead of the NDP's $420,000 and the $100,000 collected by the Bloc Québécois.

The Conservatives maintained their edge in Week 2 of the campaign, raising an estimated $1.03 million, nearly double the Liberals' $610,000. The Greens were still marginally ahead of the New Democrats — $420,000 to $410,000 —  but their trend line was heading south, while the NDP's was holding steady.

The second week of the campaign was dominated by Justin Trudeau's blackface scandal; it's possible that the Liberals took a hit in donations as a result. The unadjusted figures show Liberal donations of $200 or more dropping by nearly 40 per cent between the first and second weeks of the campaign.

But the Conservatives also hit a fundraising lull, dropping by about a third. This suggests that the most enthusiastic donors may have rushed to give when the campaign was launched, and were already tapped out by the second week.

The NDP and Greens did not suffer a similarly dramatic drop, however.

Liberals moved ahead in the middle

By the third week of the campaign, both the Conservatives and Liberals saw an uptick in donations. But the Liberals more than doubled their take, raising an estimated $1.3 million. That just edged out the Conservatives, who raised about $1.28 million. The NDP moved ahead of the Greens, taking in around $460,000 to $420,000.

Week 4 saw a drop for every party — except the Bloc. The Bloc raised about $160,000 that week, making it their best week of the campaign. This coincided with the first French language debate broadcast by TVA. Polls suggested Bloc Leader Yves-François Blanchet was the winner of that debate.

The Conservatives raised the most money in Week 4 — an estimated $760,000 — followed by the Liberals at $480,000, the NDP at $420,000 and the Greens at $350,000.

But though the Conservatives had the edge in Week 4, their downward trajectory from Week 3 continued through to the last portion of the election. The Liberals and NDP, meanwhile, increased their fundraising take over the last two weeks.

Late surge for the NDP

By the last two weeks of the campaign, the Conservatives had lost their fundraising advantage, raising less than both the Liberals and the New Democrats. In Week 5, following the English language debate (which, according to some polls, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh won) the New Democrats raised the most — an estimated $710,000, against $630,000 for the Liberals, $520,000 for the Conservatives and just $300,000 for the Greens.

The NDP slipped back into third place by the last week of the campaign but was keeping pace with the Conservatives. The Liberals raised the most money in the last week: about $810,000 to $570,000 for the Conservatives and $500,000 for the NDP.

The patterns follow much of the narrative of the campaign: a generally close race between the Liberals and Conservatives that tilted toward the Liberals by the end, and an NDP that was vying with the Greens for third place at the outset before experiencing a late boost in support.

There was an uptick in fundraising for the Bloc Québécois under Yves-François Blanchet (second from right) after the first French language debate, and an uptick for the NDP under Jagmeet Singh (right) after the English language debate. (Justin Tang/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

It's possible that the Conservatives tapped most of their donors at the beginning of the campaign, and that by the end those supporters had no more to give. Over the entire six weeks of the campaign, the Conservatives did raise the most money, taking in an estimated $5.7 million. The Liberals finished second with $4.8 million, followed by the NDP at $2.9 million and the Greens at $2.2 million.

But in 2015, the Conservatives also raised more money than the Liberals in a losing election — roughly $9.5 million by the Conservatives to $8.5 million for the Liberals over that longer campaign period. This means that in both the 2015 and 2019 election campaigns, the Conservatives raised only about 1.1 to 1.2 times as much money as the Liberals. During 2011's campaign — the last time the Conservatives won an election — they raised about twice as much as the Liberals.

With $31 million raised in 2019, the Conservative fundraising organization remains impressive. But it isn't giving the party the same advantage over its rivals it once did. It's another example of how the Conservatives' political machine was not firing on all cylinders in last year's election.

About the Author

Éric Grenier

Politics and polls

Éric Grenier is a senior writer and the CBC's polls analyst. He was the founder of ThreeHundredEight.com and has written for The Globe and Mail, Huffington Post Canada, The Hill Times, Le Devoir, and L’actualité.

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