Thomas Ferguson is a political scientist who for decades has studied campaign contributions in American political history. His ongoing theme is that, when it comes to campaign funding, the key differences are not between rich and poor (as the latter group does not give much), or even between rich and middle class, but between different groups of rich people, and between different industries. Ferguson’s work is related to theories of politics as elite contribution, but with the empirical twist that he is going through hard data on contributions. And such data are increasingly available.
From time to time we have noted mismatches between political reporting and the data. For example, in September 2008, John Cassidy wrote in the New Yorker:
If Barack Obama is victorious on November 4th, someone on his transition team should send inauguration tickets to Richard Fuld, the chairman and chief executive of Lehman Brothers.
This was meant to be ironic, I believe: Obama’s election relied on some part on the economic collapse triggered by Fuld’s behavior. Actually though, Fuld had contributed $2,300 to Barack Obama and the equivalent amount to John McCain, along with several other political officeholders.
Recently, Ferguson, along with Paul Jorgensen, and Jie Chen wrote about campaign contributions and Obama’s unexpected (to many) continuation of the controversial surveillance and security measures that were previously associated so strongly with the Bush-Cheney administration:
In sharp contrast to endlessly repeated claims that big business was deeply suspicious of the President, our statistical results show that a large and powerful bloc of “industries of the future” – telecommunications, high tech, computers, and software – showed essentially equal or higher percentages of support for the President in 2012 than they did for Romney. . . . we believe that the emergence of these new industries is a key factor in transforming the old National Security State into its new, even more sinister twenty-first century model. They are not the only important influence in that transformation, of course. These would include not only 9/11, but the rapid growth of the rest of the homeland security “industry,” including private prison companies and many other non-obvious players focused on data collection in particular domains, such as the vast infrastructure built out to service and support U.S. interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan . . .
Many of the firms and industries at the heart of this Orwellian creation have strong ties to the Democrats. . . .
We built two datasets for our research. One covers big business, meaning firms big enough to rank among the 350 largest on Fortune’s lists plus members of the Forbes 400 richest Americans. The second is a much larger sample containing every firm of every size, from the smallest to the largest. . . .
Details are here. And here’s what they found:
In our big sample, which pretty well approximates “business as a whole,” Obama trailed far behind Romney. 41 percent of all the firms (or, thanks to the Supreme Court, their executives) contributed to Romney; only 24 percent donated to Obama. . . .
But the really significant findings emerge when you look at particular industries. Six industries where the President ran especially strongly attracted our attention: telecoms, software, web manufacturing, electronics, and computers, plus the defense industry. His support in these industries ran far above his average levels of support either for business as a whole or the rest of big business. In fact, it equaled or exceeded the backing these firms afforded Romney.
It’s fun to look at campaign contributions of celebrities (see above image, taken from Wikipedia, of sportscaster and frequent Republican contributor Vin Scully) or by first name, but I agree with Ferguson and his collaborators that much is learned by breaking down contributions by industry.