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Sunlight Foundation sought to illustrate and analyze presidential and congressional campaign contributions from 1990-2012 on a national scale. Their goal was to find patterns in the data and tell a story through the historical contribution data about changing patterns and partisanship as it pertained to political campaign contributors.

Lena began this project by geocoding the 1990, 1992, 1994, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010 and 2012 campaign contribution datasets so that they could be displayed geographically.

She then produced a series of tables that responded to the following questions:

  • Nationally and for each county, how many residents donated? How many per population? And, how much have residents donated? What is the average size of a donation?
  • By county and nationally, how much is donated to candidates and how much to PACs?
  • By county and nationally, what percentage of donations is contributed to Representative, Senatorial and Presidential candidates?
  • How many candidates per cycle were Republicans or Democrats? In each DW-Nominate score?
  • What percentage of donations in each county went to Republicans and Democrats? Candidates in each score?
  • Is there a correlation between population density and the percentage of the monetary value of donations given to Republicans and Democrats?
  • Is there a correlation income levels and the monetary value of donation from each county?

The results of this study revealed that in the 2012 election cycle just 10 counties nationwide –out of over 3,000– were responsible for 30% of all contributions made by individual donors:

  1. New York County, N.Y.
  2. Washington, D.C.
  3. Los Angeles County, Calif.
  4. Cook County, Ill.
  5. Clark County, Nev.
  6. Harris County, Texas
  7. Fairfield County, Conn.
  8. Dallas County, Texas
  9. Middlesex County, Mass.
  10. Palm Beach County, Fla.

Regarding political donations, counties in the middle of the country tend to solidly favor either Democrats or Republicans, while coastal counties tend to be more even-handed in their political giving patterns. The Sunlight Foundation hypothesizes that “this could be related to the amount of money given or the number of people in a county doing the giving.”

Sunlight Foundation’s mission is to regularly publish original analyses and tools through a variety of media, helping to bring attention to the effect of money and other forms of influence on our political system. Lena’s work was used to raise awareness of these interesting findings.

Lena Ferguson
Lena Ferguson
2013 fellow
Client Sunlight Foundation
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