• November 26, 2014

Who Gives More: Democrats or Republicans?

Tuesday, November 28, 2006, at 12 noon, U.S. Eastern time

In his new book, Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism, Arthur C. Brooks presents research showing that religious conservatives are more charitable than secular liberals. He says people who support the idea that government should redistribute income are among the least likely to dig into their own wallets to help others. Included in his book is an analysis of 15 sets of data that he says all came to the same conclusion.

What are the implications of his findings? Does it matter to charities whether they get more money from Democrats or Republicans? What can be done to counter these trends? What research data was used to reach these conclusions?

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The Guest

Arthur C. Brooks is professor of public administration at Syracuse University and a frequent contributor to The Wall Street Journal. His new book, Who Really Cares, was just published by Basic Books.

A transcript of the chat follows.

Stacy Palmer (Moderator):
    Good afternoon. I'm Stacy Palmer, editor of The Chronicle of Philanthropy and am pleased to welcome you to our discussion about a new book on charitable giving that is provoking much debate around the country. We'll be taking your questions throughout the hour, so please send them in -- just click on the link on this page that says "ask a question." Mr. Brooks, thank you for joining us and could you tell us what prompted you to write this book?

Arthur C. Brooks:
    Ten years ago in graduate school, I began studying the economics of nonprofits and charitable giving. Like most everybody else in the field, I looked at tax rates, deductions, exemptions, incentives. I also looked at the amount of money people gave away, and how much it could pay for in important services.

But it always seemed to me that something was missing from the scholarly discussions of charity in America. Charitable behavior is certainly affected by economic incentives, and it is an important source of money for nonprofits. But giving is, more importantly, a question of our values.

Giving is a uniquely common phenomenon in America: We give more time and money than the citizens of any other developed country. And I think this expresses some of our core values. To reduce the phenomenon of giving to money flows and tax incentives, it seemed to me, was to miss the main point of giving for so many people. When people talk about their giving, they talk about causes that really move them -- helping the poor, participating fully in their churches, or supporting a social cause their care deeply about. They talk about being their best selves, and they talk about the benefits they enjoy themselves.

Giving is a fundamental form of expression for most people, and one that transcends both consumer transactions and the ballot box. Yet I saw that as scholars and experts, we often treat it in a rather materialistic way, as just another instrument of funding or tool of public policy.

So a couple of years ago I set out to take a serious look at giving from a values perspective. Who Really Cares is the result. It lays out the best evidence -- as I see it -- about how currents in American culture today are pushing some people to give, other people not to give, and why it all matters.

That said, the book is not intended as the last word on giving values in America -- far from it. My hope is to start a conversation on the topic (like we're having here today), and with a little luck, to stimulate more research. I'd love it if, in 5 years we have a bigger knowledge about why people give and why they don't, and I can see which of the results in this book stand up to further scrutiny by scholars and practitioners.

My thanks to all of you who are making time to read the book, and to participate in this discussion.

Question from Jim Girvan, College Health Sciences Dean:
    I am intrigued by your findings and will definitely buy the book. My question is two-fold: first, as a member of family who gives a high percentage of our income to church and a rather large percentage to charity as well, my wife and I acknowledge much of our church offerings go to running the "business of the church." Do your statistics adjust for the "average 150-700 member congregation" where 70-75% of the offering monies are needed for church functions/personnel/maintenance?

Second -- My wife and I also view our taxes as one way we assist the community. By pooling monies, each of us enjoys services that few of us could afford by ourselves, and many of those services are available to those who can't pay. Is there a way your calculations could be adjusted to reflect the social welfare impact of tax monies on the populace as a whole? (remembering that I view them as donations even though I admit they are not voluntary)

Arthur C. Brooks:
    Thanks for your questions, Jim. I agree it's important to look at giving aside from sacramental contributions to get a fair picture of things. So one of the things I do in the book is to compare secular and religious folks only in terms of explicitly nonreligious giving and volunteering. There's still a huge difference:

Religiously-observant people are generally about 10 percentage points more likely than people with "no religion" (or who never practice) to give to nonreligious causes, and about 25 points less likely to volunteer.

Regarding taxes, I think it's true that some see them as a voluntary part of the social contract to help others. The problem with trying to make a measure that combines donations with taxes is that so many people don't pay their taxes with this intent, and voluntary charity is so different in terms of deciding where and how money is spent. Still, I discuss the fact that this point has conceptual validity in some places, especially Europe where social spending really is high.

Question from Arnold Hirshon, NELINET (non-profit library consortium):
    1. Is there any evidence that conservatives generally have more disposable income, and therefore are better able to give more -- both on a dollar basis and as a percentage of income?

2. Did the study show the extent to which conservatives vs. liberals actually lend their time to help others versus open their wallets?

3. Did the study show the value of a tax benefit for conservatives versus liberals?

Arthur C. Brooks:
    Great questions, Arnold. In general, there is little evidence that conservatives are richer than liberals. In the data I used in this book, conservatives earned slightly less than liberals, but donated more in each income class. Regarding volunteerism, the gap is statistically insignificant between liberals and conservatives, although adding in religion makes a gap open up (religious conservatives volunteer a lot more than secular liberals). It's not clear whether conservatives or liberals enjoy a disproportionate tax benefit from giving, although you might plausibly argue that liberals generally get a bigger benefit because they reside in greatest numbers in high-tax ("blue") states, and thus can deduct more. Still, the emerging research on tax shows that deducibility actually affects giving behavior relatively little for most folks.

Question from Kim S., consultant:
    I consider myself to be a "compassionate conservative" working in the nonprofit sector (having worked in the corporate sector for many years.) It is my impression that the nonprofit sector skews liberal/Democrat, at least at the general policy and advocacy levels. Do you agree, and if so, how can Republicans and conservatives become more of a presence, or have a stronger voice, in the nonprofit sector?

Arthur C. Brooks:
    Kim, I think it's probably true that nonprofit managers fall disproportionately on the liberal side -- like academics, journalists, and others. (One big exception is certainly Evangelical and traditional Catholic clergy.) If conservatives want to change the political makeup of nonprofit management, it probably means taking areas like social entrepreneurship more seriously. An example of such an effort is the Manhattan Institute's Center for Civic Innovation.

 

Question from Marilyn, small Midwestern college:
    Are these two possibilities: Republicans have more money and need the tax write-offs and are more often sought out by charities; some people who describe themselves liberals (like me) share money in ways that are not recognized as charity (such as helping friends put their children through college or helping a physically handicapped co-worker pay for appropriate housing)? My husband and I also served for two years in a Christian volunteer service project, which has, as we knew it would, affected our long-term earnings and hence our retirement income.

Arthur C. Brooks:
    Thanks, Marilyn. There's no evidence that conservatives look for (or receive) tax write-offs more than liberals do. But to your other point, it is always possible that folks like you tend to give in different ways from conservatives n ways that are not picked up in the data. The evidence is pretty incomplete on this point, although it suggests that conservatives actually give informally in some ways more than liberals (e.g. giving blood). But it is always possible that, in other ways, they give less. I am open to this possibility and believe it needs more study.

Stacy Palmer (Moderator):
    Mr. Brooks will continue to take your questions throughout the hour and we encourage you to join the conversation. To submit your question, click on the link that says "ask a question."

Question from Ben Brumfield, nonprofit software provider:
    While corroborating your main points from his own research, James Lindgren has criticised your analysis for glossing over moderates, who apparently donate less than conservatives or liberals. Your own paper "Faith, Secularism, and Charity" suggested that intensity of political feeling mattered more than political orientation. Would you discuss the role of political moderates in Who Really Cares?

For Lindgren's commentary, see his post here: http://volokh.com/posts/1164012942.shtml

Arthur C. Brooks:
    Thanks, Ben. My comparison between liberals and conservatives in the book was motivated by the common stereotype that conservatives are less compassionate than liberals, so I really wanted to compare these two groups specifically. If I had been trying to argue that politics per se affected giving, I would have spent lots of space in the book looking at "moderates," who often have low civic engagement levels just as often they have weak political views. But the point in the book was to show that charity differences are actually due to attitudes and behaviors (such as religiosity and attitudes about the government) that go deeper than political affiliations. In the book, I actually point out the fact that when we correct for the "deep attitudes," politics don't predict giving very well. In other words, politics are correlated with giving at the group level and contradict the stereotypes about charity -- and that's important to know. But if we want to know exactly why this is, we have to go into much deeper than politics. Perhaps not surprisingly, that second story isn't the "top-line" one that's showing up in the press a lot.

Question from Stephen L. Rozman, Tougaloo College:
    Do you make a distinction between giving to religious organizations (including churches) and giving to other types of groups?

Arthur C. Brooks:
    Stephen, Yes. But I should note that most of the data ask people to distinguish between religious and secular giving themselves, which injects some real precision into the distinction. My friend Alan Abramson has noted this in a couple of places. One of the reasons I used so many different data sources in the book is because I was worried about imprecision and bias from self-reported giving, and wanted to make sure lots of datasets told me more or less the same thing.

Question from Stacy Palmer:
    Professor Brooks, what difference will the Democratic takeover of Congress make in terms of charitable-giving policies?

Arthur C. Brooks:
    That's an important question for all of us in this discussion, I'm sure. One take on this question is provided in the last issue of Chronicle by Les Lenkowsky, and I recommend that editorial highly. I think it's fairly likely that we'll begin to see more support for increased regulation on private foundations. Also, the repeal of the estate tax is no longer remotely likely. Of course, the effect this latter policy has on giving is totally unknown, because people disagree whether the estate tax raises or lowers philanthropy.

Question from Harvey Blumberg, Montclair State University:
    Is income equality a factor? Also age?

Arthur C. Brooks:
    Harvey, Absolutely. Beliefs about income equality and income redistribution lie behind very definite giving differences. Chapter 3 talks a lot about the fact that proponents of income equality by means of government redistribution mechanisms are less likely to give voluntarily to charity than those who oppose redistribution. Lots has been written about age as a factor in giving. In general, folks give more as they get older.

Question from Michael Kearns:
    In the Center on Wealth and Philanthropy Charitable Giving Indices: Social Indicators of Philanthropy by State study, the top 10 states for CWP Measure 4 of Giving Relative to Income Ranked by State are: New York, District of Columbia, Utah, California, Connecticut, Maryland , New Jersey, Georgia,Massachusetts and Hawaii. 8 of those states would be classified as "blue states" whereas the bottom 10 states are: Maine, Mississippi, Indiana, Missouri, New Mexico, Iowa, South Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia and North Dakota are almost exclusively red.

So my questions are:

1) Does this study contradict your book?

2) If the premise that conservatives give more than liberals, does it matter which state the conservatives live (i.e. do conservatives living in blue states give more than those in red states). And if so, why?

Arthur C. Brooks:
    Thanks, Michael. There are various high-quality indices of giving by state and region, and they do indeed come to different conclusions. The simple one I use (comparing giving as a percentage of income with the electoral map) is supported to a large extent by the work at the Newtithing Group, and also by the giving data contained in the Indiana Center on Philanthropy's PSID data. That said, there are lots of ways to look at geography and giving, and the question is far from settled. But more importantly for this book, the main forces across individuals and states are not primarily political, but cultural. In answer to your second question, I think state matters less than things like religion. If the state counts per se, it will have to do with things like tax policies, which (in my view) are really not all that important.

Question from Walter Minot, U of South Alabama:
    Are there figures for conservative charitable giving apart from direct contributions to a person's parish church or local branch, which may be a form of self-serving convenience to keep the institution going?

Arthur C. Brooks:
    Walter, my answer above to Jim sums that up pretty well. I'd like to point out, however, that even if giving to churches is something like a "club membership" for some folks, we still need to look at it as voluntarily supporting a civic organization, so it is not entirely dissimilar to other kinds of charitable giving.

Question from Tom S., educator:
    I am a fairly conservative Evangelical who gives significantly to charities, both religious and otherwise. I was recently at a liberal-focused educators' gathering where a speaker presented the Evangelical viewpoint very fairly and accurately, though it was clearly not her viewpoint. She mentioned the fact that Evangelicals are extremely generous. I knew this to be true, but was amazed to see the crowd's amazement at this statement. I was also refreshed to hear the comment made. Do you think there is a trend toward recognizing this reality? What evidence have you seen for (or against) such a trend?

Arthur C. Brooks:
    Tom, There still exists the stereotype that conservatives n including conservative Christians n are inherently stingy people. This is strikingly common in much of academia, where it's possible not to even know an Evangelical person personally. I hope the truth becomes better known, because it will help religious and secular people work together with the facts in hand, and ultimately to increase American giving. If this happens, a big part of the reason will be because Evangelicals seek more to work with secularists and others in secular giving environments.

Question from Stacy Palmer:
    Based on your research, do you have any advice for how fund raisers can best appeal to potential donors?

Arthur C. Brooks:
    Well, my first response is that fundraisers should actually APPEAL to donors more. It's really shocking how many nonprofits don't take fundraising seriously, or do so in a way that doesn't honor the intent or wishes of givers. My research shows me very clearly (and I hope shows my readers as well) that giving is hugely beneficial to givers themselves, and so nonprofits do an immense service to individuals, communities, and our nation as a whole by fundraising per se. I know it's counterintuitive, but fundraisers need to understand that one of a nonprofit's highest functions can be to connect people who have a need for services with people who have a need to give (that is, all of us).

Question from Tom S., Educator:
    In the Chronicle of Philanthropy article, you are quoted as saying, "I'm tithing my royalties assiduously." Tithing (giving 10%) is a strong Judeo-Christian concept. Did you find any parallel concept or pattern in the non-religious community?

Arthur C. Brooks:
    Tom, First of all, I kind of regretted seeing that quote in the story, because I didn't intend that comment to be a boastful one, but rather a statement of fact. I think there are effective standards of giving in secular communities, particularly in elite philanthropy. Where we can use more attention is in "regular" secular charity. It would be very useful to try and establish more of a social code of an appropriate giving level. The devil is in the details of course, and I'm not sure yet how this could be accomplished without being morally heavy-handed.

Stacy Palmer (Moderator):
    I'm afraid that is all we have time for today. Thank you all for posing so many terrific questions and thanks to Professor Brooks for offering us a new perspective on charitable-giving patterns. If you have any additional questions about the Chronicle or suggestions for how we can serve you better, you can always write to us at editor@philanthropy.com

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