It’s a truism on the right that conservatives give more to charity than liberals. Looking at the 2004 electoral map and General Social Survey research by Arthur Brooks, Richard Land wrote:
Brooks found that 24 of the 25 states that were above average in family charitable giving voted for Bush in 2004, and 17 of the 25 states below average in giving voted for Kerry. Brooks concluded, “The electoral map and the charity map are remarkably similar.”
Why? A clue may be found in the 1996 General Social Survey, which asked Americans whether they agreed that “the government has a responsibility to reduce income inequality.” People who “disagreed strongly” with that statement gave 12 times more money to charity per year than those who “agreed strongly” with the statement. One’s values, beliefs and political philosophies seem to impact how much one shares of one’s own income with the less fortunate in society.
The trend recurred in the 2008 election cycle as well. Politico reported:
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 percent of income given.
In the current Washingtonian magazine, there’s a revealing feature on the lifestyle and income contrasts between the District and its surrounding counties in Maryland and Virginia. A graphic on charitable giving, in particular, caught my attention. According to data compiled by the Chronicle of Philanthropy, the D.C. area’s “poorer jurisdictions give a greater share of their income to charity than do the rich.” Inner-city Anacostia gives 20 percent of median household discretionary income to charity. Maryland’s Prince George’s County gives 14 percent. Comparatively wealthy locales such as Bethesda, Md., and McLean, Va., gave 5 percent. And Arlington County, Va., where I live, gives a mere 4 percent.
A clarification is in order: it’s not a liberal-conservative divide. It’s a religious-secular divide. (I don’t want to make this out to be a newsflash; liberals are aware of the distinction, and snarkily downplay tithing.)
What I want to get at is this: at a minimum, the sacrificial giving of low-income religious blacks seriously complicates the either/or theory advanced by Paul Ryan yesterday in his “Civil Society” speech. “We’re still trying to measure compassion by how much government spends, not by how many people we help escape from poverty,” Ryan said at Cleveland State University. He cited the example of an Elyria, Ohio, man who opened a homeless shelter into which he moved with his wife and child. “What’s really at work here is the Spirit of the Lord,” he said, according to a Washington Post report.
And yet the kind of citizens whom Ryan would no doubt characterize as the most government-dependent happen also to be among the most personally generous. I’m going to take a wild guess here and assume that the charitable residents of PG County and Anacostia are faithful believers in the Spirit of the Lord. In Paul Ryan? Not so much.
A few commenters have noticed that an earlier version of this post was missing the word “In” from the sentence “In Paul Ryan? Not so much.” This was a typo, not a statement about Ryan’s religious commitments. — Ed