How Many Americans Donated to a Campaign in 2008?

According to the newly released 2008 National Election Study, approximately 13.5%, up from 12.6% in 2004. A graph from 1952-2008 is below.

donate08.png

This increase may strike some as small, given the total amount of money raised, the emphasis, especially by the Obama campaign, on small donors, and the efficacy of on-line fundraising. (If you include those who gave to other political groups, but not to parties or candidates, the fraction increases to 15.8%, but I do not have handy similar figures for earlier elections.) The caveat is that these numbers are based on the reports of survey respondents, whose memories can be fallible. FEC data may be able to provide corroboration, although federal law does not require campaigns to report donations under $200 (see here).

I also broke down donations across income groups, drawing on the percentiles that have been calculated by the NES over time. This is useful for figuring out who is donating and whether the emphasis on small donors and on-line fundraising has motivated more low- and middle-income individuals to give, thereby counterbalancing the wealthy.

donate08income.png

I think the data potentially support competing perspectives. On the one hand, donations are up among almost every group. Those in the lowest income group (0-16%) gave at unprecedented levels in 2004 and 2008. On the other hand, a much larger fraction of the wealthiest 5% also donated in these years (and, presumably, in larger amounts than other groups, on average).

I’m reluctant to generalize about how much “voices” have been equalized in contemporary campaign finance. Both the Pollyannas and the Cassandras are at least a little bit wrong.

More to come from the 2008 NES in the weeks ahead.

4 Responses to How Many Americans Donated to a Campaign in 2008?

  1. Daniel March 10, 2009 at 2:10 am #

    What I’d also like to see is the fraction of each economic group’s income that they donated over the years.

  2. Daniel March 10, 2009 at 2:10 am #

    What I’d also like to see is the fraction of each economic group’s income that they donated over the years.

  3. Adam March 10, 2009 at 1:54 pm #

    Is that a Kennedy-calling-family-friends spike we see in 1960? Can you break it down by party?

  4. John Sides March 10, 2009 at 3:03 pm #

    Daniel: Unfortunately, people were not asked how much they donated.

    Adam: The survey did not asked people who donated to. If you look at people’s party affiliation, 20% of Republicans reported donating, compared to 8% of Democrats. Put differently, 61% of donors were Republicans, and 34% were Democrats. If you focus on those in the top 5% of income, the results are even more skewed: 89% of these very rich donors were Republicans. So I don’t think the spike is due to the Kennedy family.