Don’t Blame Donors for Ideological Polarization of Political Parties: Ideological Change and Stability Among Political Contributors, 1972-2008

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Are campaign contributors to parties and candidates in the United States becoming more ideological? Popular and scholarly accounts suggest that political contributors have disproportionate influence in politics, which suggests an important role for them in shaping party ideology and widening the divide between the major American parties. Using the American National Election Studies (ANES) time series data from 1972 to 2008, we find that although the importance of ideology in motivating donations fluctuates from election to election, there is substantial ideological stability in the donor population over time until 2002 when the proportion of ideological donors sharply increases. Ideological extremism has not become a stronger predictor of contributing money. We conclude that mass donors are not necessarily driving partisan polarization. The implication is that politicians are not so much responsive to ideological extremism as they are strategic in mobilizing ideologues in pursuit of resources and electoral goals.

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Ameerican Politics Research





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