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Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Chronicle of Philanthropy: Red States Are More Charitable Than Blue States

Politico:  Study: Red States More Charitable:

Red states give more money to charity than blue states, according to a new study on Monday. The eight states with residents who gave the highest share of their income to charity supported Sen. John McCain in 2008, while the seven states with the least generous residents went for President Barack Obama, the Chronicle of Philanthropy found in its new survey of tax data from the IRS for 2008.

The eight states whose residents gave the highest share of their income — Utah, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, South Carolina, Idaho, Arkansas and Georgia — all backed McCain in 2008. Utah leads charitable giving, with 10.6% of income given.

And the least generous states — Wisconsin, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire — were Obama supporters in the last presidential race. New Hampshire residents gave the least share of their income, the Chronicle stated, with 2.5%.


“The reasons for the discrepancies among states, cities, neighborhoods are rooted in part in each area’s political philosophy about the role of government versus charity,” the study’s authors noted.

But it’s not just about politics — “religion has a big influence on giving patterns.” “Regions of the country that are deeply religious are more generous than those that are not. Two of the top nine states—Utah and Idaho—have high numbers of Mormon residents, who have a tradition of tithing at least 10 percent of their income to the church,” the study states. “The remaining states in the top nine are all in the Bible Belt.”

Boston Globe op-ed: Stingy Liberals, by Jeff Jacoby:

There are 366 major metropolitan areas in the United States, and a comprehensive new study by the Chronicle of Philanthropy ranks them on the basis of generosity — the percentage of income the median household in each city gives to charity. According to the Chronicle, the most generous city in America is Provo, Utah, where residents typically give away 13.9% of their discretionary income. Boston, by contrast, ranks No. 358: In New England’s leading city, the median household donates just 2.9% of its income to charity. ...

Liberals, popular stereotypes notwithstanding, are not more generous and compassionate than conservatives. To an outsider it might seem plausible that Americans whose political rhetoric emphasizes “fairness” and “social justice” would be more charitably inclined than those who stress economic liberty and individual autonomy. But reams of evidence contradict that presumption, as Syracuse University professor Arthur Brooks demonstrated in his landmark 2006 book, Who Really Cares.

However durable the myth, wrote Brooks (who now heads the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington think tank), there is no getting around the data. For years, academic research and national studies have confirmed that Americans who lean to the left politically tend to be much less charitable than those who tilt rightward. The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s new report is only the latest in a long series of studies corroborating that fact. ...

In parts of the country where conservative values dominate, charity tends to be high. Where liberalism holds sway, charity falls. “Red states are more generous than blue states,” the Chronicle concludes. The eight states that ranked the highest in charitable giving all voted for John McCain in 2008. The seven lowest-ranking states supported Barack Obama.

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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I would have thought the relative prevalence of organised religion in red states would play a HUGE role here - it certainly explains the massive outlier that is Utah, if not most of the broader trend.

Posted by: Theo Clifford | Aug 22, 2012 1:10:02 PM

I would wager that if you excluded donations to one's own church that the numbers across the political spectrum would be a lot closer. Until that's done, this "statistic" is meaningless.

Posted by: Sharyn | Aug 22, 2012 1:13:36 PM

As well they states being religious v. the non religious blue states I would expect this to be true. But how much truth can you put in a deduction that is hardly audited by the IRS. Everyone who goes to church puts money in the plate and rounds that up in their tax return. The truth is the states that are more charitable are in the Bible belt and the Mormon belt. No hit against the researchers but you are starting with an item that can be the most "fudged" item on any 1040....most of it is cash and almost never audited......especially if you just write down a sum and are not giving personal property which has to be valued. Give me the stat on how often the IRS audits charibable contributions and we can then come to conclusions on this issue. I worked on the corporate side of the IRS and know there are some items we never looked at and contributions was one....That doesn't mean individual audits didn't but I can gurarantee that would be a waste of time so I don't think you can put a lot of trust in those numbers

Posted by: Sid | Aug 22, 2012 1:43:15 PM

where people are encouraged to think that solving society’s ills is primarily a job for government, charity tends to evaporate

Taxpayer-funded assistance resembles theft as much as it resembles charity. It eliminates both the gratification of the donor and the gratitude of the recipient. The emotional loss to society is unquantifiable but huge, and hugely important.

An increased role for charity would benefit all of us.

Posted by: AMTbuff | Aug 22, 2012 2:23:09 PM

the study reflects only giving by itemizers. a substantially different ranking is generated when you include an estimate for non-itemizers. this is acknowledged on page 22 of the print version of this report, where using a methodology developed by boston college they show for example new york, connecticut, california, minnesota, illinois, etc. ranking much higher.

Posted by: r. willis | Aug 22, 2012 3:11:08 PM

This is entirely a test of religious giving, and I am surprised that the representative of the American Enterprise Institute didn't mention that weakness in the study design.

Oh wait....

Posted by: Anon | Aug 22, 2012 4:23:16 PM

Every time one of these studies come out it comes down to the same thing. Do you count giving to churches charity? Or do you only count the amount of that that may in up going to services to the poor? On the flipside many nonprofits are basically political advocacy groups. Should those count? Assessing what constitutes charity is more revealing than simply giving. I buy local food at a premium. Is that charity because it express an ideological preference through on top of a market transaction?

Posted by: asalways | Aug 22, 2012 4:34:26 PM

From Reuters:
Excluding religious donations, New York would move up from the 18th place to second place and Pennsylvania would be in fourth place instead of 40th, the report said.

Posted by: Keystone Stater | Aug 22, 2012 7:04:12 PM

I wonder what those stats would look like if you took out "donations" to churches (i.e., tithes, which are approximately 10% of income) out of the equation.

Posted by: Tim S. | Aug 22, 2012 7:49:16 PM

r.willis identified the key issue. This is only data on itemizers.

But the issue isn't only about the behavior of non-itemizers, it is that there is an obvious selection bias in the results. For poorer rural states, low state and local taxes and low property values (translating to low mortgage interest paid) means that fewer people itemize absent significant charitable donations. As a results, on average, it is precisely individuals that donate a lot to charity that end up itemizing. In richer, urban states, even taxpayers with low charitable contributions remain likely to itemize (from high taxes and mortgage interest).

In more formal speak, high charitable giving is one of the selection criteria for inclusion in the sample, and the probability of inclusion (itemizing) conditional on a given level of charitable giving is higher in poorer red states.

But that isn't as fun as blaming stingy liberals!

Posted by: Joe | Aug 23, 2012 5:41:28 AM

Excellent comment, AMTbuff.

- - -

The Left gives away plenty of money...such as "donations" to PBS, the ACLU, Media Matters, the Sierra Club, PETA, ACORN, labor unions, Obama's re-election, left-wing universities, Occupy Wall Street.... So, give the blue states credit for being generous, even if it doesn't always show up on Sch. A.

Here's a difference in the giving between the states. Red staters donate to organizations that help people. Blue staters give money to causes that further their radical, anti-capitalist politics -- which isn't really charity or an expression of compassion at all.

Posted by: Woody | Aug 23, 2012 8:45:21 AM

It appears that the study also uses total income (not disposable income) as the denominator. Because red states generally have a lower cost of living, residents of those states have more disposable income, all things equal. Since the study only considers itemizers (as noted in several comments above), it is basically comparing high-income individuals across states. Six figures goes a lot further in UT and MS than it does in NY and CA, so it's not surprising that residents of the former states give more to charity.

As to the comments above regarding the righteousness of various types of charitable giving, it should be noted that giving to churches can--and often does--"help the poor". It likely has a greater effect on poverty than giving to an opera or symphony, which would also count in the study's results.

Posted by: NoLo | Aug 23, 2012 4:33:20 PM

NoLo: "Because red states generally have a lower cost of living, residents of those states have more disposable income, all things equal."

It's rumored that people in Mississippi and Arkansas have much lower incomes than people in California and New York.

Posted by: Woody | Aug 23, 2012 9:10:02 PM