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Monday, February 26, 2024

Nikki Haley has cornered a donor market in the GOP primary — but she needs much more

The financial part of the Republican presidential race has played out a lot like the rest of it: There has been Donald Trump, and then, well behind, there has been everyone else.

But six months of individual contribution data from the Republican Party’s main online donor platform shows how and where former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley has built up her support in the Republican primary: in a patchwork of more well-off and well-educated neighborhoods around the country, the type of places that recoiled against Trump during his presidency.

Haley’s appeal to donors has only grown in the last month — her campaign says she raised almost as much in January as in the entire previous quarter. The problem is that the available donor data also illustrates the limits to Haley’s appeal, even if the uptick in donations appears to be more than enough to keep a presidential campaign operating.

Trump, long an online fundraising juggernaut, pulled in more digital donors than Haley in a whopping 24,545 ZIP codes in the second half of 2023, according to an NBC News analysis of campaign finance data filed by WinRed, the donation platform. Haley had more online donors in 1,183 ZIP codes. (This analysis compared donations to the Trump campaign and his main joint fundraising committee against donations to the Haley campaign and her main joint fundraising committee.)

Not only is there a huge gulf between those numbers, but a gaping demographic difference between those places tells a clear story about the primary.

Zooming into Haley’s home state of South Carolina, she fights Trump to a near-draw in neighborhoods above the state average (30.6%, per Census data) of adults age 25 or older with bachelor’s degrees.

But the picture on that map looks dramatically different outside the higher-education ZIP codes of her home state. In terms of online donors, she got crushed in places with fewer college degree-holders in the last six months of 2023.

Nationally, in terms of college education, the pro-Trump neighborhoods look a lot like the U.S. average: 33.5% of the population age 25 and over have a bachelor’s degree or higher in the ZIP codes where Trump had more online donors, according to Census data.

In the neighborhoods where Haley racked up more support, nearly twice as many adults — 63.4% — have bachelor’s degrees.

The Haley ZIP codes paint a clear pattern on a map, too, snaking from urban areas through wealthy suburbs along the Acela corridor in the Northeast, for example. Like in South Carolina, they tend to be clustered in and around major metro areas, though there are some exceptions.

Meanwhile, recent polling illustrates that those highly educated enclaves are also where Haley is drawing an outsize measure of her support.

In the most recent Monmouth University/Washington Post poll of South Carolina, Haley had 46% support among GOP primary voters with at least a bachelor’s degree, versus 44% for Trump. But Trump had a big 68%-22% lead among voters without bachelor’s degrees.

Put those two sides together, and it translates into a comfortable overall lead for Trump of 26 percentage points in the South Carolina primary poll.

And for Haley, the data right now shows her doing better in South Carolina than the nation. Trump led 79%-19% among Republicans in the latest NBC News national poll. For Haley, that included a 27% showing among bachelor’s degree-holders — but just 9% support among those without bachelor’s degrees.

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