Political Behavior

, Volume 39, Issue 1, pp 3–29 | Cite as

Representativeness and Motivations of the Contemporary Donorate: Results from Merged Survey and Administrative Records

  • Seth J. HillEmail author
  • Gregory A. Huber
Original Paper


Only a small portion of Americans make campaign donations, yet because ambitious politicians need these resources, this group may be particularly important for shaping political outcomes. We investigate the characteristics and motivations of the donorate using a novel dataset that combines administrative records of two types of political participation, contributing and voting, with a rich set of survey variables. These merged observations allow us to examine differences in demographics, validated voting, and ideology across subgroups of the population and to evaluate the motivations of those who donate. We find that in both parties donors are consistently and notably divergent from non-donors to a larger degree than voters are divergent from non-voters. Of great interest, in both parties donors are more ideologically extreme than other partisans, including primary voters. With respect to why individuals contribute, we show that donors appear responsive to their perception of the stakes in the election. We also present evidence that inferences about donor ideology derived from the candidates donors give to may not closely reflect the within-party policy ideology of those donors. Overall, our results suggest that donations are a way for citizens motivated by the perceived stakes of elections to increase their participation beyond solely turning out.


Campaign donations Campaign Finance Political participation 

Supplementary material

11109_2016_9343_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (953 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 953 kb)


  1. Ahler, D. J., & Broockman, D. E. (N.d.). “Does Polarization Imply Poor Representation? A New Perspective on the ‘Disconnect’ Between Politicians and Voters.” Working paper, Stanford Graduate School of Business, retrieved at
  2. Aldrich, J. (1983). A Downsian spatial model with party activism. American Political Science Review, 77, 974–990.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Angrist, J. D., & Pischke, J.-S. (2009). Mostly harmless econometrics. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Ansolabehere, S. 2012. COOPERATIVE CONGRESSIONAL ELECTION STUDY, 2012: COMMON CONTENT. [Computer File] Release 1: April 15, 2013. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University [producer]
  5. Bafumi, J., & Herron, M. C. (2010). Leapfrog representation and extremism: A study of American voters and their members of Congress. American Political Science Review, 104(3), 519–542.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Barber, M. 2014a. “Access, Ideology, or Both? Why PACs and Individuals Give Money.” Working paper, Brigham Young University.Google Scholar
  7. Barber, M. 2014b. “Representing the Preferences of Donors, Partisans, and Voters in the U.S. Senate.” Working paper, Brigham Young University.Google Scholar
  8. Barber, M., Canes-Wrone, B., & Thrower, S. (2016). “Sophisticated Donors: What Motivates Individual Campaign Contributors?” Forthcoming American Journal of Political Science, available at
  9. Bartels, L. (2008). Unequal democracy: The political economy of the new gilded age. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  10. Bonica, A. (2013). Database on Ideology, Money in Politics, and Elections: Public version 1.0 [Computer file]. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Libraries.
  11. Bonica, A. (2014). Mapping the ideological marketplace. American Journal of Political Science, 58(2), 367–386.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Brady, H. E., Verba, Sidney, & Schlozman, K. L. (1995). Beyond SES: A resource model of political participation. American Political Science Review, 89(2), 271–294.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Brown, Jr, Clifford, W., Hedges, R., & Powell, Lynda W. (1980). Belief structure in a political elite: Contributors to the 1972 presidential candidates. Polity, 13(1), 134–146.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Brown, C. W, Jr, Clifford, W., Powell, L. W., & Wilcox, C. (1995). Serious money: Fundraising and contributing in presidential nomination campaigns. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Carroll, R., Lewis, J. B., Lo, J., Poole, K. T., & Rosenthal, H. (2009). Measuring bias and uncertainty in DW-NOMINATE ideal point estimates via the parametric bootstrap. Political Analysis, 17(3), 261–275.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Claassen, R. L. (2007). Campaign activism and the spatial model: getting beyond extremism to explain policy motivated participation. Political Behavior, 29(3), 369–390.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Downs, A. (1957). An economic theory of democracy. New York: Harper Collins.Google Scholar
  18. Fowler, L. L., & McClure, R. D. (1990). Political ambition. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  19. Francia, P. L., Green, J. C., Herrnson, P. S., Powell, L. W., & Wilcox, C. (2003). The financiers of congressional elections: investors, ideologues, and intimates. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  20. Francia, P. L., Green, J. C., Herrnson, P. S., Powell, L. W., & Wilcox, C. (2005). Limousine liberals and corporate conservatives. Social Science Quarterly, 86(4), 761–778.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Gilens, M. (2012). Affluence and influence: Economic inequality and political power in America. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  22. Grant, J. T., & Rudolph, T. J. (2002). To give or not to give: Modeling individuals’ contribution decisions. Political Behavior, 24(1), 31–54.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Green, D. P., Krasno, J. S., Panagopoulos, C., Farrer, B., & Schwam-Baird, M. (2015). Encouraging small donor contributions: A field experiment testing the effects of nonpartisan messages. Journal of Experimental Political Science, 2(2), 183–191. doi: 10.1017/XPS.2015.1.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Hall, A. B. (2015). What happens when extremists win primaries? American Political Science Review, 109(1), 18–42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Hall, A. B., & Snyder, J. M. (N.d.). “Candidate Ideology and Electoral Success.” Working paper, Harvard University, available at
  26. Huber, G. A., & Arceneaux, K. (2007). Identifying the persuasive effects of presidential advertising. American Journal of Political Science, 51(4), 957–977.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Jacobs, L. R., & Page, B. I. (2005). Who influences U.S. foreign policy? American Political Science Review, 99(1), 107–123.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Jacobson, G. C. (1978). The effects of campaign spending in congressional elections. American Political Science Review, 72(2), 469–491.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Johnson, B. (2010). Individual contributions: A fundraising advantage for the ideologically extreme? American Politics Research, 38(5), 890–908.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. LaRaja, R., & Schaffner, B. (2015). Campaign finance and political polarization: When purists prevail. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.Google Scholar
  31. Layman, G. C., Carsey, T. M., Green, J. C., Herrera, R., & Cooperman, R. (2010). Activists and conflict extension in American party politics. American Political Science Review, 104(2), 324–346.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Lipsitz, K., & Panagopoulos, C. (2011). Filled coffers: Campaign contributions and contributors in the 2008 elections. Journal of Political Marketing, 10(1–2), 43–57.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Panagopoulos, C., & Bergan, D. (2006). Contributions and contributors in the 2004 presidential election cycle. Presidential Studies Quarterly, 36(2), 155–171.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Romer, T., & Snyder, J. M, Jr. (1994). An empirical investigation of the dynamics of PAC contributions. American Journal of Political Science, 38(3), 745–769.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Schattschneider, E. (1960). The semisovereign people: A realist’s view of democracy in America. Rinehart and Winston: Holt.Google Scholar
  36. Vavreck, L. (2007). The exaggerated effects of advertising: The dangers of self-reports. Quarterly Journal of Political Science, 2(4), 325–343.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceUniversity of California, San DiegoLa JollaUSA
  2. 2.Department of Political Science, Institution for Social and Policy StudiesYale UniversityNew HavenUSA

Personalised recommendations