Thursday, August 17, 2006

Campaign Contributions: A Time for Proper Analysis

There's been a back and forth dialogue about the nature of campaign donations to various candidates. While it's supposed to be insightful (and often is), it's degenerated into a lot of partisan claims. Let's try and clear some of that up.

The story is by now familiar to bloggers. Cerberus claims that Ignatieff's campaign is grassroots. Greg Morrow at democraticspace responds that that claim is quite incorrect. Various others, led by Curiously Liberal, have questioned Morrow's methodology and results. So what's the deal? Let's find out by actually analyzing the data.

The first three tables below list the number of donations received by each candidate (as well as the percentage of donations), the value of the donations received by each candidate with the corresponding percentage, as well as the average donation received by each candidate. This isn't particularly new or shocking, but it's worth including in any reasonable analysis.

Number of Donations

Raw % of Total
Bennett 38 3.09%
Brison 113 9.19%
Dion 58 4.72%
Dryden 67 5.45%
Hall Findlay 56 4.55%
Ignatieff 511 41.54%
Fry 11 0.89%
Kennedy 105 8.54%
Rae 209 16.99%
Volpe 62 5.04%
Total: 1230 100.00%

Amount of Donations Raw % of Total
Bennett $59,800.00 5.53%
Brison $100,674.63 9.31%
Dion $14,850.00 1.37%
Dryden $38,617.00 3.57%
Hall Findlay $34,645.00 3.21%
Ignatieff $276,696.26 25.60%
Fry $9,600.00 0.89%
Kennedy $103,778.00 9.60%
Rae $384,795.50 35.60%
Volpe $57,470.00 5.32%
Total: $1,080,926.39 100.00%

Average Donation

Bennett $1,573.68
Brison $890.93
Dion $256.03
Dryden $576.37
Hall Findlay $618.66
Ignatieff $541.48
Fry $872.73
Kennedy $988.36
Rae $1,841.13
Volpe $926.94
Total: $878.80

So far, nothing out of the ordinary from what's already been posted.

Morrow's claim that Ignatieff's campaign is not grassroots is based on an analysis of the percentage of each of the candidates' donors who are considered grassroots. Using this analysis, he shows that Ignatieff actually trails far behind other camps, because a relatively small fraction of his funding comes from the grass roots. But is that really the case?

The following table is a much more thorough analysis than the one presented by Morrow. The first portion of the table shows the number of contributions of various sizes received by each candidate.

The second portion of the table basically accepts Morrow's grassroots/elite distinction, but changes the divider to $250. Two subtables are included here, one for grassroots and one for elites. The first line of each shows the number of "grassroots"/"elite" donations (i.e. donations between $0 and $250/betweenn $251 and $5400) received by each candidate. The second shows the percentage of number of "grassroots"/"elite" donations received as a percentage of total numbef of the candidates' donations. The third shows the percentage of "grassroots"/"elite" donations received as a percentage of the total number of "grassroots"/"elite" donations made to all candidates.

Number of Donations Range Bennett
Brison Dion Dryden Hall Findlay
Fry Ignatieff
Rae Volpe Total:

$0-$50 1 4 9 13 3 0 42 16 20 1 109

$51-$100 7 11 21 14 18 0 85 24 21 2 203

$101-$250 5 38 16 5 15 1 109 11 26 1 227

$251-$500 13 30 6 24 11 2 173 24 39 23 345

$501-$1,000 2 9 5 7 5 4 59 11 23 27 153

$1,001-$2,500 1 10 1 0 0 4 24 2 24 6 72

$2,501-$5,400 9 11 0 4 4 0 19 17 55 2 121

Total Number of Grassroots Donations:

13 53 46 32 36 1 236 51 67 4 539

Grassroots Donations as a % of Candidates' Donations:
34.21% 46.90% 79.31% 47.76% 64.29% 9.09% 46.18% 48.57% 32.21% 6.45% 43.82%

Percentage of All Grassroots Donations:

2.41% 9.83% 8.53% 5.94% 6.68% 0.19% 43.78% 9.46% 12.43% 0.74% 100.00%

Total Number of Elite Donations:
25 60 12 35 20 10 275 54 141 58 691

Elite Donations as a % of Candidates' Donations:

65.79% 53.10% 20.69% 52.24% 35.71% 90.91% 53.82% 51.43% 67.79% 93.55% 56.18%

Percentage of All Elite Donations:
3.62% 8.68% 1.74% 5.07% 2.89% 1.45% 39.80% 7.81% 20.41% 8.39% 100.00%

So what does this table show? First off, it broadly confirms what Morrow indicated. In terms of the percentage of donations to the candidates, Ignatieff is not the most grassroots. Dion, Hall Findlay, Kennedy, Dryden, and Brison all goth a higher percentage of their donations from grassroots donors than did Ignatieff (as counted by number of donors, not size of donations).

But that type of analysis is just plain silly. Why? Because it punishes candidates who are able to reach to large donors and small donors alike. If a candidate attracts 50 donations from the grassroots and none from larger donors, while another candidate attracts 100 from the grassroots and 50 from large donors, the former will be deemed under this system to have run a more grassroots campaign. But the question shouldn't be about whose campaign attracted the highest relative percentage of grassroots donors. It should be about whose campaign was most able to attract the most grassroots donors. Campaigns shouldn't be punished for ALSO attracting the support of large donors.

So, in terms of who was able to attract the MOST support from grassroots donors, it was clearly Ignatieff. Ignatieff received contributions from 236 grassroots donors. Since there were only 539 grassroots donors in total, this constitutes 43.8% of all grassroots donors to the Liberal Party over that time. What about the other "grassroots candidates"? Dion only attracted 46 grassroots donors (8.5% of the total), Kennedy attracted 51 of grassroots donors (9.5% of the total), and Brison attracted 53 grassroots donors (9.8% of the total). Even the next most successful in attracting sheer numbers of grassroots donors, Bob Rae, only attracted 67 donors (12.4% of the total).

Thus, in terms of the total number of grassroots donations, Ignatieff attracted more than the next 4 combined. If that isn't getting out the grassroots, I don't know what is.

So why does Dion get such kudos for this grassroots support? In terms of his support, it's true that grassroots supporters make up almost 80% of the individuals who gave to his campaign. But this could be for two reasons: 1) he did an extremely successful job or attracting grassroots support, or 2) he did an extremely poor job of attracting support from non-grassroots donors.

Looking over the data, it's clear that the second is actually the case. Dion was only able to attract 12 "elite" donations, which constitute only 1.74% of all elite donations given. So while Dion only attracted 46 grassroots donors compared to Ignatieff's 236, Dion appears superficially to be a more grassroots campaign because he attracted only 12 elite donors as opposed to Ignatieff's 275.

The point of this entire blog is that Morrow is entirely incorrect, even if you accept his methodology. Ignatieff is by far the most successful at attracting grassroots support within the Liberal Party, as he attracted almost four times as many grassroots donations than the next closest candidate. Dion appears superficially to be a grassroots candidate, but only because he completely failed at attracting large donations.

To me, the grassroots candidate is the one that can attract the most support from smaller donors. That candidate might also attract large donations, but they must certainly be the one with an unquestionable lead in attracting the money of the rank and file. And that candidate is unquestionably Michael Ignatieff.


Blogger Cerberus said...

Great post. Well thought out response.

(To add to it, don't forget that calling someone grassroots just because of the size of their donation. And he makes no distinction between party elites who may not have as much money but are clearly elites in a leadership campaign, and society's elites.)

Under Greg's system, if I went down the street and got 5 people to give me $20, I'd be 100% grassroots! However, I suspect I'd have a hard time pulling in delegate support.

1:57 PM  
Blogger Anonymous Liberal said...

I completely agree with the idea that size of donation is a poor indicator of grassroots vs. elite, which are poorly defined terms. That angle of attack against the democraticspace post, however, was thoroughly covered. My idea here was to take him on on his own terms and rebut. But I completely agree.

2:19 PM  

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