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Faculty Political Donations in the 2020 Election

Did Harvard monetarily favor Biden or Trump in the 2020 election, and who was favored for primaries? At what school were faculty most politically active?


By Lucy Ding, Beverly Fu & Hope Ha
02-18-2021

The 2020 United States Presidential Election has (finally) come to a close. We at the Harvard Open Data Project were interested in analyzing political action on campus, particularly among staff and faculty: Did Harvard monetarily favor Biden or Trump, and who was favored for the Democratic nomination? At what school were faculty most politically active? Our dataset, which was made publically available by the Federal Election Commission, includes the number of donations, the amount of donations, and the date of donations for each Presidential candidate from Harvard faculty, from January 1, 2019, to October 14, 2020, the most recent requirement for report filing.

Note: donations are an imperfect indicator of voter action. There are many individuals who are willing to vote for a candidate, but unwilling to participate in funding their campaigns. Joe Biden may have, in fact, received a far greater or smaller proportion of Harvard’s votes than he did its faculty donations.

How did Harvard faculty’s donations change over time?

Harvard’s faculty overwhelmingly monetarily supported President-elect Biden over President Trump. The following visualization displays Biden’s and Trump’s donation trends starting the month before they respectively became the presumptive presidential nominees for the Democratic and Republican parties (approximately April 8, 2020, and February 17, 2020, respectively).






This first set of graphs shows the daily number of donations over time for Biden (in blue) versus Trump (in red). Notably, the scale of the two graphs is quite different. While Trump’s campaign never amassed more than two Harvard faculty donations per day, Biden’s campaign averaged over three times that per day, and achieved a record-high of 48 contributions on September 9, 2020. Moreover, Trump’s campaign never experienced the exponential growth in donations that Biden’s did.







The second set of graphs above displays the daily summed contributions in USD for each campaign, again, over the span of the months they were recognized as leading candidates for the presidential elections.

Biden’s daily summed contributions show steady growth over the summer, with a peak in September. This trend appears to be a result of the approaching election, rather than from Biden’s presumptive or official nomination from the DNC. On the other hand, the daily summed contributions to Trump’s campaign show that donations to Trump were sparse and far from the amount donated to Biden. Where the daily amount contributed to Biden’s campaign hit a high of $18845.15, Trump never received more than $787 on any day. That being said, these graphs do indicate that Harvard faculty are more likely to donate during the summer months and closer to the election.

The negative value in Biden’s graph is due to a rescinded donation, of which there were six total.






We then plotted the daily average value of each contribution in USD over time. Harvard faculty appeared to donate consistently regardless of election timing. The spike on June 27, 2020, was due to a singular donation of that amount.

Was Biden even Harvard’s preferred Democratic candidate?





Political donations prior to April 8th, 2020, when Joe Biden effectively became the sole democratic nominee due to the dropping out of all major opponents, reveal that Harvard faculty were more inclined to donate to other campaigns.

 





After Biden’s opposition dropped out, Biden’s total donation amount increased past the other candidates to over half a million dollars from Harvard faculty, but interestingly, the total number of donations that he received never exceeded Bernie Sanders’ number of donations and only slightly exceeded Warren’s total number of donations. This appears to be explained by the graph below of the average individual contribution to each campaign.



While Sanders had the greatest number of individual contributions, Sanders’s average individual donation is the least among his fellow candidates. The mean average donation from Harvard faculty across the candidate pool was $121.49, over three times Sanders’s average individual contribution.

In addition, the bar labeled “Pete Buttigieg” represents donations to his Win The Era PAC. After he dropped out, the PAC moved to endorse younger and newer candidates, receiving negligibly few (5) how many??? donations from faculty.


Which faculty is most generous in donating to political campaigns?

When comparing donations across schools, only individuals who had explicitly mentioned which faculty they belonged to were taken into consideration. In other words, employees linked to the broad umbrella of ‘Harvard’ (809 out of 6726 data points) were not included.

The Law School donated the greatest aggregate amount (~$8.4K), followed by the Business School (~$6.6K). Donors from the Law and Business schools made larger individual donations to political campaigns, while there were more individual donors amongst the staff at the Medical school and Faculty of Arts and Sciences.




However, analyzing each faculty’s political activity in terms of the average per capita basis reveals a different trend.

On average, staff affiliated with the Harvard Kennedy School donated the highest amount per capita (to any political campaign) at $22.60, followed closely by staff from the Harvard Law School at $21.60. Meanwhile, staff from Harvard College donated the lowest amount on average at $1.51. Could this be a reflection of the level of outward political engagement of faculty at each school? We surmise this may be so, though a rigorous answer is out of the scope of our data.

Conclusion

Harvard’s employees appear as left-leaning as their student body, or even more so. Joe Biden was the clear favorite, as is shown by the graph below:



Nationwide, Trump raised $1.57 billion, maintaining a slight edge over Biden at $1.51 billion. At Harvard, Biden dwarfed Trump 76.7 to one.


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