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Who Donates to Politicians?

Where do political campaigns get their money?

By:  |  March 3, 2020  |    430 Words

(Photo by Alfred Gescheidt/Getty Images)

Political campaigns raise millions of dollars as people hope to help their preferred candidate get elected – but who contributes this money? Most Americans do not donate to political parties or candidates, but the number of people who donate is going up.

In the last couple of years, a handful of studies have looked at the makeup of political donors. The Pew Research Center published insights into 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%. These contributors all shared similar traits: 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 government and public affairs most of the time are more likely to make political donations, compared to just 7% who are less engaged.

Most donors will only give $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

Federal Election Commission (FEC) numbers reveal that the Democratic candidates for the 2020 presidency 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 people with higher incomes.

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%).

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.” Perhaps this is the reason most Americans choose not to send their money to assist political campaigns.

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