What campaign contributions tell us about the partisanship of government employees


(Jacquelyn Martin/AP)
December 27

Of the various epithets deployed by Donald Trump over the course of his life, few have been offered with as much frequency or disdain as “Democrat.”

But on Thursday morning, President Trump labeled people as Democrats for another reason: to concern-troll his political opponents.

“Have the Democrats finally realized that we desperately need Border Security and a Wall on the Southern Border,” he wrote, again linking the ongoing partial government shutdown to his demand for a wall on the border with Mexico that, he incorrectly claimed, would curtail an inflow of drugs and criminals.

He continued, “Do the Dems realize that most of the people not getting paid are Democrats?”

This is a very on-brand point for Trump to raise. The Democrats should want to end the shutdown because the shutdown affects mostly Democrats. The implication is that Trump would be more willing to reopen the government if those who were working without pay were Republicans, a loyalty to party that Trump has shown repeatedly in other ways.

That argument hinges, of course, on the question of whether Trump is correct. Are those who are currently out of work mostly Democrats?

In 2010, Gallup found that about 40 percent of unionized federal employees identified as Democrats, compared with 27 percent who identified as Republicans. Of those who were not members of a union, 33 percent were Republicans, and 29 percent were Democrats. (A plurality of this latter group identified as independent.) In part, this is probably a function of job type: Unionized government employees are less likely to hold higher-paying management positions. But it suggests a near-parity in partisan representation.

But that’s also a look at federal government employees broadly. The shutdown affects only part of the government, including the departments of the Treasury, Justice, Agriculture and Homeland Security. Are those same percentages applicable to those groups?

To answer that, we can look at campaign contributions. Everyone who makes a contribution to a federal political campaign above a certain dollar amount has to report his or her occupation and employer, including those employed by federal agencies. So let’s consider the four agencies above. How do contributions from employees of those agencies compare?

Before answering that question, some context is important. First, it can be tricky to extract every employee of each agency. For example, the following are included in Federal Election Commission data as unique descriptors of the Treasury Department:

  • U S TREASURY
  • U. S. DEPARTMENT OF TREASURY
  • U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE TREASURY
  • U.S. DEPARTMENT OF TREASURY
  • U.S. DEPT OF TREASURY
  • U.S. DEPT. OF TREASURY

In other words, we may have missed some, including people who listed sub-agencies as their employers.

Second, this is the number of contributions, including, possibly, multiple contributions from the same person. Third, these, too, are not necessarily representative of the agencies on the whole, because higher-paid employees might be expected to make larger campaign contributions.

Those caveats included, here’s what we tallied, with circles scaled to the number of contributions.


(Philip Bump/The Washington Post)

Although we can’t say that most employees of these agencies are Democrats, we can say that most of the contributions made by identified employees of these departments went to Democrats. That, to Trump, is probably a more important factor.

But perhaps our contributions analysis is imperfect. Why don’t you take a stab? We took every employer and occupation where there were at least 10 contributions and put them in a database. Search for an employer or job title and see the distribution of contributions. (Again, this is not dollar totals but number of contributions.)

These data include only contributions in 2018, a midterm election in which Democrats raised a lot of small-dollar money and, ultimately, fared much better than the Republicans in federal elections. The data are also only rough approximations of the partisan composition of any of the groups above.

Here, though, we’ve fallen deep into a rabbit hole dug by the president. The question for elected officials trying to determine how to resolve the dispute over government funding shouldn’t be how many members of their own party are affected but, instead, what’s best for the American public on the whole. Trump’s suggestion that party take primacy may be tongue-in-cheek. Or, more likely, it may be a reflection of his demonstrated approach to governance.

Christopher Ingraham contributed to this report.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/is-trumps-dismissal-of-unpaid-government-employees-as-democrats-accurate/2018/12/27/a5b63216-b6cb-4f16-be17-d3ebed6589ef_story.html

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