How political ideology influences charitable giving

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There are many issues that seem to divide Democrats and Republicans, and new research has found one more: philanthropy.

Red counties, which are predominantly Republican, tend to report higher charitable contributions than Democrat-dominated blue counties, according to a new donation study, although donations in blue counties are often bolstered by a combination of charitable donations and higher taxes.

But as red or blue counties become more politically competitive, charitable giving tends to decline.

“There’s something about the same vision where maybe the comfort level increases,” said one of the study’s authors, Robert K. Christensen, associate professor at the George W. Romney Institute. of Public Service and Ethics at Brigham Young University. “They feel secure by voluntarily redistributing their wealth. It is also important for mandatory donations.

The study was conducted by four professor-researchers who set out to explore how political differences affect charitable giving. It was published on October 20 in the academic journal Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly. The other authors were Laurie E. Paarlberg of Indiana University-Purdue University of Indianapolis, Rebecca Nesbit of the University of Georgia, and Richard M. Clerkin of North Carolina State University.

The professors used a county-by-county review of tax returns in 2012 and 2013 as the basis for their research and created a model to interpret the data. To focus on the effect of party affiliation on philanthropy, the authors controlled for certain variables, including education, income, race, region, and religion.

Dr Christensen said the team analyzed more than 3,000 counties, but did not reveal the county-by-county breakdowns. “It is difficult to remove these counties because of the control variables,” he said.

To assess political ideology, the researchers measured the percentage of the population that voted Republican in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections. They also measured political competition, or the share of votes of a particular party over others. gone.

By looking at detailed tax returns, they were looking at an easier slice of donors, but not capturing all donations in a county.

The research raises questions about how living in a more diverse political community affects people’s generosity. The results could provide a glimpse into divisions in charitable giving after Tuesday’s midterm elections, particularly for seats in the House of Representatives.

“They are taking steps towards science and moving away from simply looking for odious comparisons, which has hampered further studies on the geography of donation,” said Paul G. Schervish, professor emeritus at Boston College and principal at the retirement of its Center on Wealth and Philanthropy.

Professor Schervish, who was not involved in the study, reviewed the research at the request of the New York Times. “This is the most scientific article on this subject, although I have a few questions,” he said.

Among these was at the top of the list where charitable dollars went. A Republican county like Madison County, Idaho, for example, is one of the most charitable in the country, but data doesn’t show whether those dollars go to local causes or to organizations outside the county or the state.

Here are five major points of the study, and the theories of the authors to explain them.

The more Republican a county, the more its residents report charitable contributions, according to the study.

The researchers said the finding was in line with mainstream Republicans’ broad political leanings that favor less government intervention and more private sector donations to make up for the lack of government support.

“Their preference is to provide for the collective good through private institutions,” said Professor Nesbit. “But we don’t know what kind of institutions they donate to.”

Dr Nesbit said they were also unsure whether the donors were purely generous or whether they would benefit from their donation as well. This relationship is called consumer philanthropy, in which people donate to a religious organization or school from which they will benefit in the form of, say, a better religious education program or a new gymnasium.

The study found that Republicans lived in either a Red County or a Blue County. Republican donors tended to give less in Democratic-leaning counties.

One theory was that taxes tended to be higher in counties where the majority of residents were Democrats. Republicans had less to give, and they weren’t persuaded to give more to reap a bigger tax deduction.

A second hypothesis is that donors are not necessarily confident in giving when their beliefs are not shared or that the institutions to which they give might support causes that are not theirs.

“If I am a Republican and only in the minority, my preferences are not shared or in high esteem,” said Dr Christensen. “When they are in the majority, they feel they can share their wealth that way.”

Charitable contributions may be lower in Democratic-leaning counties, but residents support the social safety net through higher taxes.

The study found that Democratic counties like Holmes County, Missouri, which are on the higher end of the donation spectrum, provide more to charitable causes, but through a combination of what the authors call voluntary donations, such as charity and involuntary donations. give, what the rest of us call taxes.

Taxpayers seem to have little say in their tax funding, but choosing to live in these counties shows a willingness to be taxed and to have the government support the causes they believe in.

“The county you live in and the political ideology of that county affects the tax burden on the community,” Dr. Nesbit said. “This in turn has an effect on charitable contributions. If you leave the tax burden out of the equation, you don’t get the whole story.

Higher tax burdens can reduce charitable giving, as government policy crowds out private philanthropy, Dr Christensen said. “Our evidence suggests that Republican counties are more susceptible to the tax avoidance effects on charitable giving than Democratic counties,” he said.

Supporters of lower taxes have argued that individuals are more able than the government to allocate money to important causes, including those in need of help. But the study found that was not true. Donations do not match government assistance, and without tax money social services are not funded as well.

“The evidence shows that private philanthropy cannot compensate for the loss of government benefits,” said Dr Nesbit. “It is not equal. What the government can put into these things is much more than what we see through private philanthropy. “

On the other hand, private philanthropy can do much better than government aid, such as meeting a need and wanting to fail without political fallout.

The authors of the study argue in favor of a combined approach.

“They are complementary means of redistributing wealth rather than substitutions for each other,” said Dr Christensen. “We can’t put all of our eggs in one basket.

The concept of redistribution of wealth through taxes and charity remains polarizing. And for groups that wish to continue to receive generous donations and organizations that wish to be funded with government money, knowing how to navigate this polarization can be a good thing.

When counties are divided equally among political parties, donations and the tax burden decrease.

Or in the words of the study: political competition decreases donations.

Dr Nesbit said the findings were reminiscent of social science researcher Robert D. Putnam’s research on racial diversity. Exposure to different people – especially in a cohesive community that has become more diverse – has caused people to be more alone, she said.

“This argument can also be extended to philanthropy,” she said. “This high level of political competition lowers trust. This has to do with all kinds of possible outcomes. And in those counties, people are keeping more to themselves. “

The study’s findings can be a resource for understanding philanthropic models in the United States – and a guide to where people will tolerate higher taxes. But these homogeneous communities will do little to get people from different political parties to give, let alone live together.


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