Original Paper

Political Behavior

, Volume 33, Issue 4, pp 565-600

First online:

The Political Ecology of Opinion in Big-Donor Neighborhoods

  • Brittany H. BramlettAffiliated withDepartment of Government and Politics, University of Maryland
  • , James G. GimpelAffiliated withDepartment of Government and Politics, University of Maryland Email author 
  • , Frances E. LeeAffiliated withDepartment of Government and Politics, University of Maryland

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Major campaign donors are highly concentrated geographically. A relative handful of neighborhoods accounts for the bulk of all money contributed to political campaigns. Public opinion in these elite neighborhoods is very different from that in the country as a whole and in low-donor areas. On a number of prominent political issues, the prevailing viewpoint in high-donor neighborhoods can be characterized as cosmopolitan and libertarian, rather than populist or moralistic. Merging Federal Election Commission contribution data with three recent large-scale national surveys, we find that these opinion differences are not solely the result of big-donor areas’ high concentration of wealthy and educated individuals. Instead, these neighborhoods have a distinctive political ecology that likely reinforces and intensifies biases in opinion. Given that these locales are the origin for the lion’s share of campaign donations, they may steer the national political agenda in unrepresentative directions.


Campaign fundraising Public opinion Political elites Campaign donors Political ecology Political geography