Big data reveals hidden patterns of political contributions
Political giving by individuals giving is generally assumed to be ideologically motivated. Analysis generally supports this assumption. People give consistently a political party or the other, typically in a manner that would be expected if they were following political beliefs aligned with only one party.
What big data is revealing is that this is not always the case. In certain organizations, we find individuals switch parties consistently. Their reasons for doing so may be varied, but a hypothesis is that some donors are pragmatic rather than ideological. These pragmatic donors will give to anyone who aligns with their position on an issue or set of issues. In this sense, these individuals ignore the ideological platform of one party, choosing different allies over time. They favor one party at one time, and the other later.
Consistent patterns of partisan giving is revealed in the visualization by the long horizontal lines recorded by the moving dots. This reveals the six-month moving average of the monthly giving totals to each party, where the balance given is calculated as the Republican amount minus the Democratic amount. The absolute amount is log-transformed.
Vertical lines indicate a person is changing the amount of money they donate to a party, either the total or proportion given. When a dot traces a path that stays above or below the center line, this indicates that a donor has given consistently to one party. When the path crosses the center line, this indicates that the donor has shifted the lion share of their giving from one party to another.
There are notable, if unsurprising tilts inside various organizations. Some organizations are partisan in the sense that most of their employees give to the same party. The ACLU employees tend to give to the Democratic candidates. People in the Heritage Foundation give primarily to Republicans. Other organizations are bi-partisan in that they employ both Democratic and Republican partisans. For example, Harvard Business School employees, faculty and students give to both parties. The number of individuals on each side is balanced, but few paths cross the center line.
In contrast with these typical patterns of giving, individuals in certain organizations tend give to both sides. In particular, employees at Goldman Sachs often give to both parties over time. This is indicated by the large number of paths that criss-cross the center. At the organizational level, there is an overall bias towards the Democrats, and a shift toward Republicans starting after 2008. However, at the individuals level people giving to both sides during these phases. In contrast to giving to a party because of an ideological affinity with the party, this suggests that these people give to recipients who might share their view or promote their interests on particular issues.
The Forest of Advocacy is a project of the LazerLAB, Northeastern Centers for Computational Social Science and Digital Humanities (NECSS/NEDH).
It is led by Mauro Martino, Sasha Goodman, and David Lazer, in collaboration with Yaniv Altshuler, Jesse Chu-Shore, Drew Margolin, Yu-ru Lin, Piotr Sapieżyński.
Thanks go to Northeastern's College of Computer and Information Science for support of this project.
Northeastern Centers for Computational Social Science and Digital Humanities (NECSS/NEDH).