Monthly Archives: March 2016

How the overwhelmingly white donor class prevents action on climate change

Although the Paris Climate Deal certainly represents a step forward for the international community, there are still many potential pitfalls to addressing climate change. New data suggest that the overwhelmingly white donor class may be one such obstacle.

Recently, political scientist Brian Schaffner and I wrote a piece in Mother Jones showing that the GOP donor class is both far more likely to deny the reality of climate change and far less likely to support policy proposals to reduce emissions. However, beyond being more conservative than the population in general, the data so far available suggest that the donor class is far whiter than the general population. CCES data suggest that that may well have a major impact on policy.

Using 2012 and 2014 CCES, we can examine divides between white and non-white donors. These divides are large and consistent: white donors are more likely to deny climate change and oppose action to remedy it. CCES asks a series of questions on climate change, and two of them (“Global Climate change has been established as a serious problem, and immediate action is necessary” and “There is enough evidence that climate change is taking place and some action should be taken”) meet scientific muster. However, while 55% of white donors agree, a whopping 71% of non-white donors do. In addition, non-white donors are more supportive of the EPA strengthening enforcement, even it costs jobs (58% to 49%).

The gap on whether states should adopt minimum fuel requirements for renewables is too small to be statistically significant, thought it points in the same direction, however, the gap on car fuel economy standards is larger (70% to 65%). Finally, on the question of whether the EPA should regulate CO2 emissions, there is also a wide divide (71% to 58%).

As Demos has noted before, the donor class is overwhelmingly white. In 2012, more than 90% of federal contributions came from majority white neighborhoods. A recent study by Alex Kotch finds, “95 percent of the largest North Carolina donors to key federal races in the 2014-2016 election cycles were white, while non-Hispanic whites make up 65 percent of the state population.” A study of Seattle’s 2013 election suggests that while Seattle is 67 percent non-Hispanic white, the neighborhoods from which more than half of contributions came from were 80 percent white.

On the other hand, as a recent Ben & Jerry’s post shows, climate change will disproportionately impact people of color. As Lew Daly, the director of Policy and Research at Demos notes, “Currently, public policy in support of residential solar mainly takes the form of tax benefits for homeowners who install solar panels on their homes, as well as net metering policies in some states and cities. But less than half of black Americans and even fewer Latinos own their homes, which means that localized renewable energy for many people of color will require shared energy production or ‘community solar,’ where community-owned installations or small neighborhood power plants serve multiple customers in a community.” The United States faces an enormous challenge fighting global warming: the goal must be to ensure that our policy response doesn’t entrench racial inequity.

The overwhelmingly white donor class shares preferences that diverge widely from non-donors. The increasing power of the donor class entrenches racial inequality, and makes progressive change more difficult. Without political equality, racial equality and climate justice are far more difficult to achieve.

This piece originally appeared on Policyshop and Salon

How to break the GOP governors’ destructive Obamacare resistance

One of the most important public policy battles in America today is the Medicaid-expansion provision of the Affordable Care Act, which 20 states still refuse to exercise. As Carter Price, a mathematician at the RAND corporation tells Salon, “The states that are not expanding Medicaid are foregoing billions of dollars in federal spending and tens of thousands of jobs.”

A new working paper by political scientist Patrick Flavin finds that, “subjective well-being increased among low income citizens in states that expanded Medicaid eligibility compared to states that did not.” So, what determines whether a state expands Medicaid? A new study adds a twist to this important literature: they find that lobbying has a strong influence on whether a state expands Medicaid.

In a forthcoming paper in the American Journal of Public Health, political scientists Timothy Callaghan and Lawrence Jacobs find that while partisan control of government explains much of the variation in Medicaid adoption, it can’t explain all of it. Instead, they find, “reformers can take concrete steps to widen the reach of Medicaid expansion in states with Republicans in power. Well-organized public interest groups have succeeded in states where they deploy lobbyists.” Their model finds that when the number of of public interest lobbyists increases as a share of the state population, states are more likely to move closer towards fully expanding Medicaid. This effect remains even after extensive controls:

“Even amidst the potentially confounding effects of partisan polarization, economic affluence, the inertial dynamics within states, and the well-funded pressure from businesses and professionals, lobbyists for public interest groups still wielded influence.”

The problem is that such lobbyists are often overpowered: On average business and professional lobbyists outnumber public interest lobbyists four-fold. While there were 7,300 lobbyists working for business or professional health organizations, there were only 1,675 who worked for health advocacy organizations and 226 for unions in the health sector. But the important lesson is that when progressives mobilized, they can have impact. It’s an important lesson from a rather dispiriting literature.

Earlier this year I reviewed the research and showed that the core factor driving Medicaid expansion was not economics, but rather politics. And, while the work of other scholars, like Alexander Hertel-Fernandez, Theda Skocpol and Daniel Lynchfocused on divides within the business community, Callaghan and Jacobs show that it’s also important to focus on activism. Another factor at work is the donor class. As Inoted in a discussion of the work of Michael Barber, a political scientist at Brigham Young University, GOP donors are far more opposed to the Affordable Care Act than non-donors:


New data provided to Salon by political scientist Martin Gilens from the 2012 Cooperative Congressional Election Study, which has a relatively large sample of high-income individuals suggest that high-income Americans are the most likely to support repealing the ACA. This sample is unique in that it has a large enough sample of individuals earning over $500,000 (118) to get an idea of what the superwealthy think about healthcare. As the chart below shows, while Americans on the whole are opposed to repealing the ACA (44% support repeal, compared with 56% opposed), the only time support reaches 50% is in the highest income bracket. Among those earning less than $30,000, 40% supported repealing the Affordable Care Act, among those earning more than $350,000, 47% did.


According to data from 2014 Cooperative Congressional Election Study, provided toSalon by political scientist Brian Schaffner, 62% of non-donor Republicans said they would refuse the Medicaid expansion, compared with 77% of donors who gave more than $1,000.

The data from Gilens and Schaffner line up with the work of political scientists Benjamin Page, Larry Bartels and Jason Seawright, who document huge gaps in opinions about healthcare between the wealthy and average Americans. While 61% of the general public support “national health insurance, which would be financed by tax money,” only 32% of the wealthy people in their survey did. While, 59% of the general public say they would be “willing to pay more taxes in order to provide health coverage for everyone,” only 41% of the wealthy agree. The problem, however, is that Gilens and Page also find that, “economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.”

This research helps explain earlier studies suggesting that public opinion does affect whether a state expands Medicaid, but a fully 17 states are not congruent with majority will. While the Medicaid expansion is popular, it is not inevitable. The power of the wealthy, the business lobby and the donor class likely hampered the Medicaid expansion. However, when public interest groups are mobilized, they are often able to successfully press for progressive change. It’s all the more worrying then that conservatives are far more successful at shaping the agenda at the state level and appear unwilling to dedicate significant resources to the Medicaid expansion. Progressives can beat the donor class, but they have to try.

This piece originally appeared on Salon