You cannot escape politics. From the films you watch to the sporting events you attend, everything has become politicized. For some people, this is the way it should be. Others want a break from the anxieties, headaches, and stresses of tax policy, climate change, war, and the Federal Reserve System. Perhaps this contrast in views explains two facts: most people do not donate to political parties or candidates, and the number of people who are contributing is going up.
In the last couple of years, a handful of studies have been published that look at the makeup of political donors. The Pew Research Center published insights into the demographics of political contributors during the 2016 election, while Sludge and Data for Progress examined the folks sending money to the 2020 field of Democrats.
A Look at the Money in 2016
In the 2016 presidential election, more Americans than ever before donated to a party or a candidate. The percentage of Americans donating has been steadily rising in the last 30 years, from 6% to 12%. But these contributors all shared similar characteristics: they were wealthy, highly educated, and older.
According to Pew, nearly one-third of household incomes of $150,000 or more donated, compared to just 7% of families with incomes of less than $30,000. Of the people who responded to Pew’s survey, 29% of those with a post-graduate degree had donated, as had 24% of those who possessed another college degree. Only 7% of respondents with a high school diploma or less education had made a political donation.
The older you are, the more likely you contributed to a campaign:
- 18-29: 9%
- 30-49: 12%
- 50-64: 14%
- 65 and older: 32%
If you are politically engaged, you are more likely to donate to a political party, a candidate, or a political organization. Pew found that 28% of Americans who say they follow what is going on in government and public affairs most of the time are far more likely to make political donations, compared to just 7% who are less engaged.
Most Americans will only donate $100 or less. The Pew survey revealed that 55% reported giving less than $100, 32% said they donated between $100 and $250, and 13% contributed more than $250.
Donating to Democrats in 2020
Despite marketing itself as a party of young people and minorities, Federal Election Commission (FEC) numbers reveal that the main backers for the Democrats are wealthy, old, white, and male.
The Democratic candidates have received most of their support from donors who earn more than the average personal income of $48,150. The top-tier candidates, however, were given a bigger share of their donations from donors with higher incomes. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) received a larger portion of the pool from high-income individuals, while Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) got a smaller share of campaign contributions from that key demographic.
Nearly all the candidates received about three-quarters of their itemized campaign funds – exceeds or aggregates $200 or more – from white donors.
Only three candidates received more than half of their campaign cash from women: Marianne Williamson (77%), Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) (56%), and former Representative Beto O’Rourke (53%).
Donors over the age of 65 appear to be most enthusiastic over Senator Warren, former vice president Joe Biden, and Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN). Younger contributors have seemingly only been interested in two men: Senator Sanders and entrepreneur Andrew Yang.
In Government We Trust?
Since the 1960s, public trust in the government has steadily declined to historic lows. Today, just 17% of Americans say they can trust the federal government to do what is right “just about always” or “most of the time.” Young or old, black or white, Republican or Democrat – the data points to a lack of trust in Washington across the board. And you wonder why most Americans do not ship their hard-earned dollars to politicians.