My Quiet Life My Quiet Life

lies, damn lies and …

Statistics are fun (and hard). [Say Uncle][1]’s rebuttal to my post lists the top 20 donors, their contributions, and totals for both Republicans and Democrats and opines:

So, as I said before, they’re both the party of the rich. The Democrats are just the party of the richest.

I disagree with this assessment. What those numbers tell us is the political skew of a very slim top percentile – the very rich. But expanding the scope of the slice you take can easily and quickly change the story. (The Democrat contributions could drop off mightily after the top 20, or vice versa).

To get a more comprehensive picture of what would really qualify either party as “the party of the richest”, you’d need to compare the frequency of contributions across the full breadth of contribution amounts. This is tougher to do, but some of the data is out there (courtesy of the Center for Responsive Politics):

<table border=1 cellspacing=0 cellpadding=3 align=”center”>

Donor Type

Count

Total*

<td style="vertical-align: bottom; text-align: center; white-space: nowrap="nowrap"; font-weight: bold;">

To Dems*

</td> <td style="vertical-align: bottom; text-align: center; white-space: nowrap="nowrap"; font-weight: bold;">

To Repubs*

</td> <td style="vertical-align: bottom; text-align: center; white-space: nowrap="nowrap"; font-weight: bold;">

To PACs*

</td> <td style="vertical-align: bottom; text-align: center; white-space: nowrap="nowrap"; font-weight: bold;">

% Dems

</td> <td style="vertical-align: bottom; text-align: center; white-space: nowrap="nowrap"; font-weight: bold;">

% Repubs

</td>

<td style=”vertical-align: bottom; white-space: nowrap=”nowrap””>


Donors giving $200+

</td>

651,739

$994.8

$402.3

$440.9

$183.0

48%

<td style=”vertical-align: bottom; text-align: right; white-space: nowrap=”nowrap”;”>

52%

</td>

<td style=”vertical-align: bottom; white-space: nowrap=”nowrap””>


Donors giving $200+ only to candidates/parties

</td>

495,865

$571.9

$242.5

$326.7

$0.0

43%

<td style=”vertical-align: bottom; text-align: right; white-space: nowrap=”nowrap”;”>

57%

</td>

<td style=”vertical-align: bottom; white-space: nowrap=”nowrap””>


Donors giving $200+ only to PACs

</td>

114,303

$96.1

N/A

N/A

$96.1

N/A

N/A

 

<td style=”vertical-align: bottom; white-space: nowrap=”nowrap””>


Donors giving $200-$999

</td>

394,642

$157.7

$47.1

$75.0

$36.2

39%

<td style=”vertical-align: bottom; text-align: right; white-space: nowrap=”nowrap”;”>

61%

</td>

<td style=”vertical-align: bottom; white-space: nowrap=”nowrap””>


Donors giving $1,000+

</td>

257,097

$837.2

$355.2

$365.9

$146.8

49%

<td style=”vertical-align: bottom; text-align: right; white-space: nowrap=”nowrap”;”>

51%

</td>

<td style=”vertical-align: bottom; white-space: nowrap=”nowrap””>


      $10,000+

</td>

10,685

$338.7

$171.2

$137.6

$46.6

55%

<td style=”vertical-align: bottom; text-align: right; white-space: nowrap=”nowrap”;”>

45%

</td>

<td style=”vertical-align: bottom; white-space: nowrap=”nowrap””>


      $100,000+

</td>

385

$132.8

$88.2

$43.6

$2.4

67%

<td style=”vertical-align: bottom; text-align: right; white-space: nowrap=”nowrap”;”>

33%

</td>

<td style=”vertical-align: bottom; white-space: nowrap=”nowrap””>


      $1,000,000+

</td>

23

$52.7

$48.2

$4.4

$0.2

92%

<td style=”vertical-align: bottom; text-align: right; white-space: nowrap=”nowrap”;”>

8%

</td>

 

<td style=”vertical-align: bottom; white-space: nowrap=”nowrap””>


Donors giving only to Republicans
**

</td>

303,867

$384.0

($0)

$361.3

$33.4

0%

<td style=”vertical-align: bottom; text-align: right; white-space: nowrap=”nowrap”;”>

100%

</td>

<td style=”vertical-align: bottom; white-space: nowrap=”nowrap””>


Donors giving only to Democrats
**

</td>

211,097

$351.4

$328.0

($0)

$37.0

100%

<td style=”vertical-align: bottom; text-align: right; white-space: nowrap=”nowrap”;”>

0%

</td>

<td style=”vertical-align: bottom; white-space: nowrap=”nowrap””>


Donors giving to both parties
**

</td>

25,589

$168.9

$74.3

$79.6

$24.5

48%

<td style=”vertical-align: bottom; text-align: right; white-space: nowrap=”nowrap”;”>

52%

</td>

<td style=”vertical-align: bottom; white-space: nowrap=”nowrap””>


Double Givers (gave at least 33% to each party)
**

</td>

11,594

$34.8

$17.2

$17.1

$2.3

50%

<td style=”vertical-align: bottom; text-align: right; white-space: nowrap=”nowrap”;”>

50%

</td> </table>


*Amounts are in millions of dollars.
</p>


** Figures reflect contributions to candidates, parties and Leadership PACs.
</p>
<p class=small>

The numbers on this page are based on contributions from individuals giving
$200 or more. All donations took place during the
2001-2002 election cycle and were
released by the Federal Election Commission on Monday, June 09, 2003.
Feel free to distribute or cite this material, but please
credit the Center for Responsive Politics.
</p>
</td> </tr> </table>

So, if you look at these numbers, you'll notice two things. One, that Say Uncle's stats are very much a reality: The Democrats have, particular in the 2002 election cycle, a large advantage in very large contributions. However, as you scale down the contribution size, you start to see the Republicans emerge with a clear majority in contributions $100,000 and less. (No contributions less than $200 are presented in this data -- more on this later.)

So, we see a pattern start to emerge. I think there's some interesting amateur psychology you can apply here. I don't think I'd be going out on a limb to say that businesses usually contribute money to the party they think that will serve their best interests (or sometimes to both, to hedge their bets), or to say that Republicans are traditionally percieved as the "business friendly" (where the ethics of this friendliness are debatable) party. Why, then, would a large business or invidual contribute a large sum of money to a party that will perhaps fritter it away on useless (har, har) social programs? Why would Warren Buffett criticize a tax plan that would make him millions of dollars?

The answer is that you reach a certain point where your wealth isn't really at risk anymore. Self-interest in government policy becomes less of a priority, and you can afford to take more interest in the general state of the union. The George Soros's and Warren Buffett's can afford to be weekend warrior philanthropists. But anyways, the point is that these large contributors are such a small percentage that their motives vary widely, and I don't think they are useful in establishing a general pattern.

The real battle for shifting power in campaign finance is in the contributions under $100,000, and this is where it gets interesting, when you start to look at the average contribution sizes versus the number of contributors for candidates. Howard Dean's campaign is the best example for this because, despite what you may think about the candidate, his campaign is an extraordinary thing.

76% of GWB's 2004 contributions thus far have been in amounts over $2000, compared to only 16% for Dean. GWB's average contribution is $1521, Dean's is $618. Yet, he's raised over $10m, edging up to GWB's daunting $35m, even as the formidable incumbent. These are the numbers that make me wish there was more data for the much smaller contributions.

The dawn of the information age is affecting this sort of thing in amazing ways, and people that previously never had the means, the time, or the inclination to contribute to political causes are now doing so. Like the kid that funded his college education a penny at a time from contributors on the internet, the candidates this year are learning the power of a new model of fundraising. (I am a good example of this. 4 years ago, I was politically inactive and couldn't have told you how to contribute to a political party if my life depended on it. Since then, organizations like moveon.org and the DNC itself have mobilized to make this sort of thing accessible and convenient, and as a result, I'm giving away hundreds of dollars a year for specific causes and to the DNC in very small distributed amounts.)

So, labeling one party as "the party of the richest" is difficult, but I think it's clear that whereas the Republicans tend to rely on bigger contributions from a smaller number, the Democrats are mobilizing to utilize bigger numbers of smaller contributions.

[1]: http://saysuncle.com/archives/001126.html#001126