Fun with demographics, US election contributions, and stats!

I got an email from the Democratic Socialists of America with a bold claim:
“Fewer than 16,000 donors were responsible for HALF of all federal campaign contributions in 2016. To put that in perspective, there were 3.2 million donors in 2016. Yet half of all financial support came from just 0.5% of them.”

That’s pretty shocking for a country that considers itself an example of democracy. But I’m always suspicious of how people use stats, so I put in some research time.

2016 US election contribution totals from the Center for Responsive Politics: No automatic alt text available.

.1% of the total US adult population gave over $2,700. Here’s a chart from Pew to visualize that breakdown:

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In other words, a large percentage of that .1% of donors giving over $2,700 are wealthy and have checked the education blocks our culture rewards. “Those who earn more also tend to donate more. Among those who donated, 27% of those with family incomes of $150,000 or more said they contributed more than $250, while 16% of contributors with incomes between $75,000 and $150,000 gave at least $250.”

If we view money as a component of the electorate’s overall feelings of efficacy, those with more money in the United States have more access to political efficacy. This canalizes thinking and behavioral patterns, as portions of the electorate with strong feelings of political efficacy are more likely to perpetuate a system in which they feel powerful. In part, this is why the world looks so different for those with and those without consistent feelings of personal efficacy.

From WaPo:

“Gilens and Page analyze 1,779 policy outcomes over a period of more than 20 years. They conclude that “economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.”

“In their primary statistical analysis, the collective preferences of ordinary citizens had only a negligible estimated effect on policy outcomes, while the collective preferences of “economic elites” (roughly proxied by citizens at the 90th percentile of the income distribution) were 15 times as important. “Mass-based interest groups” mattered, too, but only about half as much as business interest groups — and the preferences of those public interest groups were only weakly correlated (.12) with the preferences of the public as measured in opinion surveys.”

“A political organization contacted 191 congressional offices requesting meetings to discuss a pending bill. The organization’s members were randomly identified either as constituents or as campaign donors. Of the people identified as donors, 19 percent got meetings with the member of Congress or a top staffer, but only 5 percent of those identified as constituents (not as donors) got similar access.”

This creates a specific context for voters and their elected representatives. My hypothesis is that an inordinate use of money as efficacy leads to ineffective or unsustainable governing mechanisms due to the sociological factors involved in consolidating and wielding concentrated power in the context of inequality. This is particularly concerning when considering the methods individuals who’ve consolidated money into fortunes used to do so and the personal toll of that psychological impact. A change in personal wealth is a significant psychological experience and can impact behavioral patterns, the severity of unaddressed neurosis, and an individual’s ability to impact the world around them.

By catering to individuals with wealth-enhanced political efficacy, we narrow the diversity of effective interests, creating a feedback loop of efficacy and success within wealthy demographics. Additionally, as noted in Chart 1, there is a major disparity between male and female participation, further skewing priorities. When power is so grossly imbalanced within a society, a government that effectively represents those power imbalances will continue to widen the gap with its myopic policies created in conjunction with its most politically effective citizens.

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