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Thursday, August 16, 2007

Campaign contributions 90210

There is an interesting story on the cover of today's USA Today with the headline Biggest Donor Areas go for Dems. Rather than link to the article and its attendant bias (as a college humor magazine once noted, "USA Today is the one newspaper with the courage to tell it like it is: everything's fine"), I will summarize the content and link to a PDF file with a table of results.

The data appears to come from opensecrets.org, the website of the nonprofit and apparently non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics. The data looks at the zip codes with the 50 highest amounts of campaign contributions so far. The table lists the top 10 candidates in terms of fundraising in each zip code. The zip codes seem to be in random order in the table, but this sample data shows a few zip codes sorted by campaign contribution. You can look up where they are by typing the zip code directly into Google Maps. The zip code that gave the most was 10021 in midtown Manhattan. The famous Beverly Hills 90210 ranked eighth.

The site also lets you search for individual contributions by zip code. For example, in my former zip code (for too short a season), the top single donation was $2,300 to John Edwards from someone named Mark Davis.

As you can probably see, this web site is a huge source of data for research on who gives to whom, from where, from which you can test hypotheses as to why. But the result that USA Today thought to report on was that for the 50 zip codes with the largest contributions, Democratic candidates raised nearly $32 million to only $13 million for Republican candidates. (In contrast, President Bush raised $6 million from the 2003 top 50 by this point in the elections - one more sign of how crazy this election cycle is shaping up to be, and how early.)

32 > 13. This is good news, right? More cash for the good guys? Well, I have my concerns, because this result seems to fit so securely into the Republicans mega-narrative: Rich liberals from the coasts are funding Democrats to oppress people in the heartland.* (There are various ways to phrase this message, but I think this comes closest to what they actually say, and I think it's important to stick to their actual words as closely as possible.)

You can bet that this story will show up on right-wing talk radio and Fox News today, and will soon appear in fundraising letters by Republican candidates. While this is a genuinely interesting result, there are a few limitations that we should keep in mind:

1) This is not a listing of the 50 wealthiest zip codes in the U.S.; it is a listing of the 50 zip codes that have contributed the most to presidential campaigns. It would be interesting to correlate these zip codes with the 50 zip codes with the highest median income. Some would line up, some would not.

2) As crazy as this election cycle has been, it is still early, and there are a lot more campaign contributions to come. It's highly possible that rich Republican donors will wait until a single candidate has been found before emptying their swimming pools of gold and selling their shower curtains.

2a) Related to point 2, Republicans are dispirited - they lost big in the midterm Congressional elections, and there is no single candidate to energize the base like Ronald Reagan did. Democratic supporters want to build on the momentum of the last election, so naturally their early contributions are high.

I'm sure that people who are more into statistics than I could look into this more, and come up with more hypotheses.

We should keep watching this issue. The question that might decide the election is this one: Who do the rich support? I want to vote for the other guy.

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3 Comments:

Anonymous Susan said...

The rich are never to be trusted. Because they're usually too busy rolling around in piles of gold bullion (sp?), ala Scrooge MacDuck, to be very much concerned with anyone else's welfare.

Saturday, August 18, 2007 6:36:00 AM  
Blogger Knumb said...

Bear in mind this concept relies on logic and introspection on the part of the average S. McDuck...

It's possible Republicans learned their lesson after christening G.W. Bush as the candidate before the race even started, sticking us with a president that would have to run with the wind to reach mediocre.

He's jumped the shark now, but McCain would have had a much better chance if Republican money had shown such restraint in the 2000 elections (and if Rove weren't such a dirtbag, but a zebra has its stripes).

That having been said, my standard disclaimer applies: I think both major parties are horrible.

Sunday, August 19, 2007 11:27:00 PM  
Blogger Doctor Science said...

Here's a link to the wealthiest zip codes.

Indeed, of the ten wealthiest zip codes in the US, only 3 are on USA Today's list at all. Note that the list of wealthiest zip codes only includes zip codes that had more than 1000 tax forms filed, so it's weighted toward urban areas.

Monday, September 03, 2007 9:46:00 AM  

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