Charitable Giving: Red States vs. Blue States

People living in red states tend to be more generous than people living in blue states. That is the conclusion that one may have upon reading the Chronicle of Philanthropy report “The Politics of Giving”.

The report states, “The nation’s sharp political divide can provide a clue to fundraisers: The eight states that ranked highest in The Chronicle‘s analysis voted for John McCain in the last presidential contest while the seven lowest-ranking states supported Barack Obama.”

Here is the chart that accompanies the report:

An ABC News story *states the following:

Which states are more generous about giving money to charities? Red or blue states? A report by The Chronicle of Philanthropy, “How America Gives,” uses the most recent available IRS data from 2008 to find out.

The answer, according to the report, is that people in Republican-leaning states give somewhat more, mostly because of religious ties. The Chronicle studied individual tax returns and studied demographic characteristics such as religion and political affiliation. The report found that states that were in favor of the 2008 presidential candidate John McCain gave higher percentages of discretionary income toward charities.


[*UPDATE: The link to the ABC News story no longer works. ]

The ABC News story includes the following chart:

On his website, U.S. radio personality Neal Boortz says the following about the above-cited statistics:

 A new study has been released by the Chronicle of Philanthropy on charitable giving in the United States. Based on IRS data from 2008, what it boils down to is this: Conservatives are more charitable people. They voluntarily give away more of their earnings than liberals.

On a website that features discussion boards, I started a discussion thread about the above-cited philanthropy statistics. I asked, “Do these statistics mean anything significant?”

The response that I received depended on whether the one responding was a conservative or a liberal.  One known liberal responded by saying, “How much one is already struggling before they give probably plays a factor.”

Well, the claim of a correlation between poverty level and charitable giving won’t work.

Here is an excerpt from the Chronicle of Philanthropy report “America’s Generosity Divide“:

The rich aren’t the most generous. Middle-class Amer­i­cans give a far bigger share of their discretionary income to charities than the rich. Households that earn $50,000 to $75,000 give an average of 7.6 percent of their discretionary income to charity, compared with an average of 4.2 percent for people who make $100,000 or more. In the Washington metropolitan area, for example, low- and middle-income communities like Suitland, Md., and Capitol Heights, Md., donate a much bigger share of discretionary income than do wealthier communities like Bethesda, Md., and McLean, Va.

So, the difference in giving between blue states and red states isn’t due to a difference in income level.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s statistics are based on data pertaining to the year 2008.  According to those statistics, the state of Mississippi was the 2nd most generous state in 2008 in regards to charitable giving.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in the year 2008, the state of Mississippi was ranked #1 in poverty level, meaning that the state had the highest percentage of people living below the U.S. poverty level.

In contrast, the state of New Hampshire was ranked #50 in charitable giving and ranked #50 in poverty level.

So, the poorest state gave the second highest amount of charitable giving.  The richest state gave the least in charitable giving.

Why is that?

Town Hall columnist Jeff Jacoby answers:

Of course this doesn’t mean that there aren’t generous philanthropists in New England. It doesn’t mean selfishness is unknown on the right. What it does mean is that where people are encouraged to think that solving society’s ills is primarily a job for government, charity tends to evaporate. The politics of “compassion” isn’t the same as compassionate behavior. America’s generosity divide separates those who understand the difference from those who don’t.

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