More Political Donations from Academia

May 2, 2008

A little more detail on the data I gathered for my earlier post about political contributions from university employees…

The dollars involved are not trivial.  From the top ten ranked universities I examined, more than $2.2 million was donated to candidates and supporting organizations during the 2008 election cycle alone.  Harvard led the pack with more than a half million dollars in contributions.  The results for all ten are here:

Political Contributions During 2008 Election Cycle
  Dollars Number of Donations
Princeton $151,433 208
Harvard $502,234 539
Yale $218,656 258
Stanford $292,660 461
Penn $197,038 273
Cal Tech $28,581 41
MIT $17,430 31
Duke $139,236 239
Columbia $397,231 510
Chicago $293,580 414
Total $2,238,079 2974

Political Donations from Academia

May 1, 2008

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that academics give more money to Democrats than Republicans.  But when you actually examine the political donations data, it is shocking to see just how uniformly one-sided the contributions are. 

I obtained information on political donations from the Open Secrets web site, which gets its data from federal filings.  I then identified the top ten ranked universities according to US News and World Report.  I searched Open Secrets for all political contributions during the 2008 election cycle for people who listed these top 10 universities as their employer.  Here is what I found:

Distribution of Political Donations During 2008 Election Cycle
  Dollar Value # of Donations
   % Dem % Dem
Princeton 81% 88%
Harvard 92% 94%
Yale 94% 94%
Stanford 84% 90%
Penn 86% 90%
Cal Tech 94% 88%
MIT 93% 94%
Duke 81% 84%
Columbia 78% 91%
Chicago 96% 96%
Total 87% 91%

Almost nine out of every ten political contributions from employees of these universities went to Democratic candidates or supporting organizations.  There was almost no variation across institutions.  Among these top universities it didn’t matter whether it was a technical institution or not; it didn’t matter what region it was in.  Academics overwhelmingly donate to Democrats. 

I also examined how much was given to Obama relative to Clinton.  Here, too, academics are clearly further to the Left, as can be seen in the table below.  Almost three-quarters of contributions to those two candidates went to Obama.  Compare this to a relatively even split among primary voters and delegates.

Split of Clinton and Obama Donations 
  Dollar Value # of Donations
   % Obama % Obama
Princeton 75% 83%
Harvard 68% 74%
Yale 70% 77%
Stanford 73% 72%
Penn 84% 83%
Cal Tech 74% 85%
MIT 92% 96%
Duke 76% 85%
Columbia 56% 63%
Chicago 97% 95%
Total 74% 78%

I also did a small test to see if these patterns were unique to elite institutions.  I collected the information for the University of Oklahoma, which is ranked 108th (according to USNRW) and is located in a solidly Republican state.  The results are basically the same.  93% of all dollars contributed from U of OK employees go to Democrats and Obama gets 97% of the contributions to him or Clinton.

Obviously, academics are free to donate to whomever they prefer.  And I have no problem with an institution, especially a private one, being lopsided in its political preferences (which we are imperfectly measuring via campaign contributions). 

But I do find these results troubling in two ways.  First, if universities are going to lack balance in the perspectives that are represented on campus, they should be open and honest to prospective students and donors about that imbalance.  Like Christian colleges, they should declare their focus and priorities up front rather than pretending that they are inclusive of all views.

Second, I am troubled by the lack of diversity across institutions.  If the process by which we train, hire, and tenure academics is intellectually open and healthy, we should expect that at least some universities would contain a relatively even divide of political views and some would even be lopsided toward the Republicans.  The fact that we do not see this should make us worry about whether higher education is being hindered by an ideological cartel.  Not every unit or every college has to be balanced, but higher education as a whole should have greater ideological diversity if it is going to contribute to the intellectual progress of the country.

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