The “burn rate” is a useful figure that offers insight into the state of presidential campaigns. Expressed as a percentage, the burn rate shows how quickly candidates are spending the money they have been raising on advertising and other expenses. Recent Federal Election Commission data from 2024 contenders in the first and second quarter reveal gloom, if not doom, for Republicans who are seeking to replace President Joe Biden.
Tim Scott has the highest burn rate—hovering above a hundred, Scott is in a league of his own. As Axios details, as of late June, Scott had $21 million to spend, much of it unused funding from his Senate campaign. However, a burn rate of 109% means Scott has been spending more money than he has been taking in.
You’ll need to go all the way down the list to find Democrats. The Democrat with the highest burn rate is Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who comes in 8th place at 29% after Tim Scott (109%), Doug Burgum (69%), Vivek Ramaswamy (53%), Ron DeSantis (40%), Donald Trump (39%), Asa Hutchinson (35%), and Nikki Haley (35%).
Although DeSantis benefits from super-PAC money, his burn rate of 40% is high and, when considered together with recent layoffs and falling poll numbers, reveals desperation. Another problem for DeSantis is that he ranks very low with small-dollar donations, relying too heavily on wealthy donors, as revealed in an earlier Axios report. The problem with this strategy is that wealthy donors get maxed out early, plus poor performance with small-dollar donations reflects a lack of an enthusiastic grassroots campaign.
Although Trump appears to be enjoying some grassroots support, his burn rate is nearly the same as DeSantis’ and he is losing money thanks to his mounting legal woes. As the New York Times reported, Trump’s PAC, which had $105 million last year, now has under $4 million left after paying mounting legal bills.
Unlike his top Republican rivals, Biden’s burn rate is a low 7.7%, placing him 10th on the list (after William Hurd, at 10%). Last month, Biden’s campaign reported having raised $72 million from 394,000 donors in the second quarter. The numbers revealed strong grassroots enthusiasm, with 97% of the donations under $200, averaging $39 each.
Presidential campaigns need enthusiasm like people need oxygen. Although it’s easy to become cynical, small donors make a difference, and we’ve reached a point where a donation of any amount to the Biden campaign is a contribution toward a down payment on America’s future as a democracy. Until the election is over, it’s all hands on deck.