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Study: Charitable giving decreases with political competition

Photo: BYU images

PROVO — A new study co-authored by a BYU professor finds that when political competition heats up, charitable giving goes down.

It looks like people give more to charity if they live among more people of their same political party. Robert Christensen, Associate Professor in the Marriott School of Business at Brigham Young University, says there’s a lot of skepticism right now.

“Republicans [are skeptical] of Democrats, Democrats of Republicans, and it seems to be spilling over into our communities and social lives in ways that could frankly be a little detrimental,” he says.

Researchers compared IRS charitable giving to voting records. They found Republicans in a Republican-dominated county, or Democrats in a Democrat-dominated county, gave more to charity than members of either party living in a more politically competitive area.

 

“This evidence suggests that this political skepticism so to speak, is impacting our generosity,” Christensen says. “And I don’t think there’s a world where that’s a good thing.”

Christensen said it’s something they’d like to study further.

“The data we have aggregated at the county level, we’d like to talk to some of these taxpayers and see if they are really thinking of the politics of their county when they are giving, or is it a subconscious thing,” Christensen says.

 

One of his co-authors, Rebecca Nesbit of the University of Georgia, theorized that voters may be self-sorting themselves to live next to people with whom they already agree.

“Lower levels of competition may be an indication that we’re sorting into enclaves of like-minded political preferences,” she said in a statement. “While this sorting may lead to higher levels of charity, it may not help heal the political divisions in our country.”

The researchers used county voting results from the 2008 and 2012 elections to measure political ideology and identify which areas were considered Republican, Democrat or mixed.