It’s no secret that campaign contributions from higher education have favored Democratic candidates for years. When it comes to the current presidential race, however, data show that the gap between left and right has grown from a rift into a chasm.
A Chronicle analysis of Federal Election Commission data provided by the Center for Responsive Politics shows Donald Trump raising a tiny fraction of the campaign money that the previous two Republican nominees, Mitt Romney and John McCain, drew from higher-education professionals over comparable time periods.
Across higher education, donations in congressional and Senate races showed a ratio of Democratic to Republican giving similar to that of the two previous presidential-campaign cycles. But support for Mr. Trump stood at less than 8 percent of what Senator McCain raised from higher-ed professionals, and around 4 percent of the donations that Mr. Romney pulled in over the same time period, once the figures were adjusted for inflation.
As of June 30, faculty members and others who work in higher education had donated $76,668 to Mr. Trump’s campaign committee and to support "super PACs" — independent committees that can raise and spend unlimited funds. By comparison, people working in academe had given $6.4 million to Hillary Clinton. Those figures account for donations of at least $200 that the Center for Responsive Politics has determined come from people associated with higher education. They are the most-recent figures available.
An Unorthodox Campaign
There are several factors behind the steep drop in higher education’s support for the Republican candidate.
One is simple pragmatism, which is just as common a reason for giving as ideology, said David Schultz, a professor of political science at Hamline University.
"I think educators as well as the administrators are looking at Trump as probably somebody who would not be putting a lot of money in to higher education," Mr. Schultz said. "If we take him seriously in terms of the degree of tax cuts that he wants to push through, that would have to come at the expense, in part, of dramatic cuts on student financial aid," not to mention the limited money that comes to colleges from the federal government, he said.
Another reason for the shift, said Barry Burden, director of the Elections Research Center at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, is the Republican’s unorthodox campaign.
"The Trump campaign has also been remarkably slow to develop a fund-raising operation," he explained in an email. "He did not even actively solicit contributions during the nomination season."
A third factor could be the demographic fault lines of 2016. "Trump’s strength is among those with less than a college education," Mr. Burden wrote. "Given that higher-education professionals have collegiate and often postgraduate education, Trump is likely to struggle earning their support."
Overall, 72 percent of the academic contributions analyzed went to Democratic or liberal political committees, compared with 23 percent to Republicans and conservatives. (Six percent went to third-party and independent candidates and unaffiliated PACs.) In 2012 the split was 69 percent to 25 percent in favor of Democratic candidates and liberal organizations.
Donors who work in higher education accounted for $24.4 million in contributions to candidates, PACs, and super PACs as of June 30. That money accounts for about 1 percent of the $2 billion donated during this election cycle.
In addition to the $6.4 million that went to the campaign committee and super PACs supporting Mrs. Clinton, $3.6 million was donated to Bernie Sanders, whose campaign did not have an associated super PAC.
In 2008, Barack Obama raised $7.9 million (worth $8.8 million in today’s money) from faculty members, administrators, and other employees of colleges and universities — the highest total of any candidate over the last three presidential elections.
The University of California system accounted for more donations supporting Mrs. Clinton than any other institution — $524,950 in total. Employees of the system donated $1.6 million to federal candidates and committees, the most of any college or university.
Several academic donors to Mr. Trump contacted by The Chronicle declined to speak on the record, citing concerns that they would face professional retribution for publicly supporting the Republican candidate.
Jennifer Walske, a visiting faculty member at the University of California at Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, is a former investment banker who gave more than $120,000 to support Hillary Clinton. But like some of Mr. Trump’s academic supporters, she said she’d like to see more open political debate on campuses.
"We need to embrace the diversity of thought in the classroom," Ms. Walske says. "That’s what makes educational institutions great — the freedom to discuss these topics."
Methodology: This analysis relies on campaign-finance data from the Federal Election Commission, provided by the Center for Responsive Politics (https://www.opensecrets.org). The center assigns donors industry codes based on the donors’ sources of income. The categories used for this analysis are: schools and colleges, medical schools, law schools, technical, business and vocational schools, and for-profit education. Data on student contributions and contributions by primary- and elementary-school employees have been removed. Donations to party convention accounts are also excluded from this analysis.
Because the liberal political-action committee and online-giving platform ActBlue itemizes all of the contributions it receives, not just those at or above $200 as is required by the Federal Election Commission, donations made via ActBlue are excluded from all aggregate analyses. This is done to make data from 2016 comparable with previous cycles and because the data do not include unitemized Republican donations.
Donations to joint fund-raising committees are excluded to avoid double counting. Super PACs that received $5,000 or more from this list were assigned a party, if possible, based on their expenditures.