“Where Are All the Liberal Megadonors?”

David Weigel asks:

Conservative mega-donors are purging the GOP. Why aren’t liberal tycoons doing the same for Democrats?

The short answer is that rich people are more likely to be conservative and Republican. Weigel talks about mega-donors for a hypothetical “Club for Socialism.” But extreme left economic views are not popular among the rich. Here are some graphs. Ideological foaming about “trustfunders” aside, if campaigns are funded by rich “megadonors,” we’re going to see a push to conservative policies, especially on economic issues. The two parties are not symmetric. There’s no reason to think that for every Republican megadonor there is an equal and opposite rich funder on the Democrats’ side. Sure, there are some liberal richies, just not as many as on the other side.

I think Weigel realizes this, but I’m unhappy with his article because he seems to presuppose the existence of a sizeable group of super-rich liberals and then he goes on to discuss why they’re not coughing up the big bucks.

P.S. In absolute numbers there are a large number of super-rich liberals in the United States; it’s just not a surprise to me that the number who will donate lots of money to political campaigns is less than the corresponding number of rich conservatives.

P.P.S. Weigel clarifies here.

8 Responses to “Where Are All the Liberal Megadonors?”

  1. RobC May 25, 2012 at 3:04 pm #

    I’d respectfully suggest that the kind of donors Weigel is talking about are not merely the rich but the super-rich–people who could shell out Soros-style megabucks. Using statistics that relate to lots of doctors and lawyers and full professors doesn’t capture that demographic. It may be that the universe of billionaires (or maybe half billionaires or even quarter billionaires) is more likely to be Republican than Democratic, but none of the statistics I’ve seen addresses the issue, so it’s an open question.

    I would, however, fault Weigel for his statement that “[i]n our post-Citizens United lives, the whims of a millionaire or billionaire can transform an election.” Citizens United had nothing to do with political expenditures by individuals, whether they be millionaires or billionaires or zillionaires. The right of corporate entities (including Super PAC’s) and unions to engage in certain TV advertising in the sixty days prior to an election was decided by Citizens United, but very wealthy individuals acting on their own, without the use of a Super PAC, could have done that before Citizens United, and they could even have done it through a Super PAC with respect to all expenditures other than TV advertising in that limited period. We’ve learned from distinguished political scientists about the role of media elites in fostering myths. The notion that Citizens United changed the rules for wealthy individuals is one of those myths.

    • Andrew Gelman May 25, 2012 at 3:27 pm #


      Yes, I agree that Weigel was talking about the super-rich. And I agree that we don’t know their preferences, but based on the data I’ve seen (extrapolation from preferences of the top 5%, data on campaign contributions, and data on political attitudes of the top third of income), my guess is that lots more of the super-rich are on the right than on the left, especially on economic issues. That’s why I said I was not surprised by the asymmetry in big campaign donations.

      • Matt Jarvis May 25, 2012 at 3:57 pm #

        There’s research being done on the super-rich. Page, Bartels & Seawright have a really cool project in the works. The data aren’t in yet (as far as I know….the last I heard about this was April 2011), but we’ll actually get data on that upper .01% eventually!


  2. Jay Livingston May 26, 2012 at 12:09 am #

    Conservatives love to repeat the assertion that the rich are Democrats. Here’s Andrew Ferguson in the Weekly Standard *HREF=”http://www.weeklystandard.com/articles/new-phrenology_644420.html?page=2>here):

    Among the fabled “1 percent,” according to Gallup, the number of self-identified Republicans is only slightly greater than the number of Democrats. As Christopher Caldwell has pointed out in these pages, political donations from 19 of the 20 richest ZIP codes in the United States go overwhelmingly to Democrats, by a ratio of four to one or more. Democrats are the party of what Democrats used to call the superrich. Only Democrats seem not to realize this.

    Ed Whelan repeats this at NRO in connection with Citizens United. But that case unleashed corporate spending. It may take a little time to get data on who got more of the money from corporate sources, but I’d guess that many of those sources too are in Democratic-voting zip codes.

    • Andrew Gelman May 26, 2012 at 7:53 am #


      Actually, I think Andrew Ferguson has a point. I will write a separate post on this.

  3. PMP May 27, 2012 at 2:48 pm #

    Why does the number of liberal super-rich donors matter? I would think what matters is, roughly, the total amount of resources (cash) distributed and the number of recipients.

    So if George Soros and Warren Buffet and John Sperling and Peter Lewis and Teresa Heinz-Kerry all decided to make extraordinary efforts in this cycle and conservatives declined to match their demonstrated resolve, then the relative numbers of donors wouldn’t make a difference.

    What am I missing?

    • Andrew Gelman May 27, 2012 at 3:38 pm #


      Based on the data I’ve seen, I think that (a) there are more rich conservatives than rich liberals who might donate to campaigns, (b) the total amount of money that might be donated is larger among conservatives than liberals, (c) on economic issues, the rich conservatives are farther to the right [typo fixed] (compared to the average American) than the rich liberals are to the left.

      All these claims are consistent with Weigel’s observations. You are right that if four rich liberals happen to make huge contributions and no rich conservatives match them, that the relative numbers wouldn’t make a difference. But I don’t see that happening. You’re saying “if A, then B,” and I’m saying that A is not going to happen.

      • LFC May 28, 2012 at 10:02 pm #

        correction – you mean, I think: “on economic issues, the rich conservatives are farther to the right….”