Donations, Like Votes, Favor Obama

By Alyssa W. Walden
VCU Multimedia Journalism

If dollars were votes, Virginia still would have swung blue in 2008 for Barack Obama.

Barack Obama received $17,031,854.04 from Virginians alone in the time before the Nov. 4 election. Virginians gave $15,404,295.78 to presidential hopeful John McCain.

According to a recent computer analysis of data from the Federal Elections Commission, Virginians gave $32,436,149.82 to the two candidates in total. If the dollars were votes, Obama would have won Virginia with 52.5 percent to McCain’s 47.5 percent.

On election night, the dollars proved worthwhile as Obama took the state with 53 percent of the votes. McCain received 47 percent of the votes. These figures almost exactly reflected the percentage of money raised.

It had been 44 years since Virginia gave the nod for a Democratic candidate. In 1964, Virginia went blue for President Lyndon Johnson.

Before the election, Virginians had raised a total of $43,104,157.87 for all candidates, including those who did not make it past the primary stage. So what did the typical donor look like?

Of all donations received in the state, 30 percent of voters fell into five job categories: retired, attorney, consultant, not employed, or homemaker.

Retired individuals contributed 11.2 percent of funds raised in Virginia totaling $4,808,463.83 from 27,396 individuals.

Samuel Nesmith, a resident of Richmond, is a retired individual who gave money to political campaigns in hopes to help get more people to the polls on Nov. 4.

“I’ve always been highly interested in politics,” Nesmith said. “I didn’t give a lot of money, but I gave what I could, and I hope it at least helped get the word out that it is important to vote and be passionate about what you believe in.”

Attorneys contributed 10.1 percent to the Virginia total, while consultants gave 3.7 percent. Almost 2 percent of contributions were from individuals who were not employed, and homemakers gave 3.2 percent.

“I felt that it was important to give to this election more than ever before,” said Frances Hylton, a self-proclaimed homemaker who also owns and works in a convenience store in Bassett, Va. “This was a time for Virginians to call for change and in order for that to happen our candidates needed monetary support.”

In Virginia, 150,184 donations were made to all potential presidential candidates. Of those donors, nearly 40 percent came from five Virginia areas.

Arlington and Alexandria lead the way in donations, each bringing in roughly 13.3 percent of Virginian donations. Arlington had 19,970 donations totaling slightly more than $12 million. In Alexandria, 19,931 donations resulted in about $5.5 million.

Richmond saw 5.29 percent of the donations, the third largest amount with 7,940 donations totaling $1.8 million. Behind Richmond were Charlottesville and Falls Church with 4 percent each.

Joe Stoltz, acting director of the Federal Elections Commission, believes these numbers are largely due to locality.

“When you look at what the top five localities are, it’s no surprise that they’re up there,” Stoltz said.

“The areas in Northern Virginia are so close to Washington, D.C., that they are almost completely wrapped up in the political scene. Richmond as the capital serves as the political hot zone of the state in a manner. We’d expect to see many donations from that area.”

In the 2008 presidential election, young voters were also heavily focused on with the hope of seeing more political involvement before and on Election Day. In terms of campaign contributions, students were also involved.

Though student contributions made up less than one percent of all donations, 1,328 students gave a combined $280,035.15 to various candidates.

Obama received the largest amount of student contributions with 0.93 percent of all donations to Obama coming from students. A total of nearly $160,000 was given to Obama by 1,039 students.

McCain, on the contrary, received 81 contributions from students for $24,000, about 0.16 percent of all funds for the candidate.

Mary Catherine McGinn, a student at VCU, says she decided to contribute time to the McCain campaign instead of funds.

“My parents were huge supporters of McCain so they had already given from the financial standpoint,” McGinn said. “I thought it would be great to help get McCain’s message out there by giving my time to the campaign. I felt like a lot of people were voting for a candidate for the wrong reasons, and the real message needed to be brought the attention of my classmates.”

Mike Gravel, one of the potential democratic candidates hoping for the party’s bid, saw more support from students. Nearly 3 percent of all funds donated to the candidate were from students.

It is important to note that the occupation of contributors is self-reported so discrepancies may exist in the data used for analysis. Some fields in the data are also incomplete, a problem that each candidate must make a good-faith effort to have completed.

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Filed under Capital News Service, News, Politics

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