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Contrarian donors sail against prevailing political wind
Question of the Day
It’s lonely being a supporter of President Obama in Provo, Utah. In the past several months, locals have given $550,000 to the two presidential campaigns, but only $29,000 — 5.3 percent — has gone to the Democrat.
“It’s so ingrained in the culture to just fit in,” said Nathan Bell, a firing-range employee who has given $603 to Mr. Obama.
Provo is a university town, and that usually spells friendly territory for Democrats — but in this case it’s home to the deeply conservative Brigham Young University, where Mr. Bell’s father teaches. “At first, it was a little bit of rebellion, but over time it just became a thinking-for-myself mentality,” the younger Mr. Bell said.
Pronounced giving patterns in red states tend to be reversed in deep blue states, federal records show. In fact, no state’s communities are more united against Mitt Romney than in Massachusetts, with his Boston campaign headquarters nestled deeply in enemy territory. Some cities in the state where Mr. Romney served as governor from 2003 to 2007 give 96 percent of their campaign dollars to his opponent.
That is the case for residents of greater Pittsfield, Mass., a community on the state’s western border: More than 600 residents gave $280,000 to Mr. Obama, and 25 gave $13,000 to Mr. Romney.
Pittsfield and Provo are among the many enclaves where one of the candidates dominates in the money chase, which usually signals a big discrepancy in voting support, too.
An analysis by The Washington Times of campaign contributions suggests that there are far more Obama-backing communities than Romney regions.
Mr. Obama had more $200-plus donors than Mr. Romney in 300 of the 350 areas where at least 100 people have donated since May.
Thanks to larger donations, Mr. Romney received more money from nearly 200 of those areas from May through August, but Mr. Obama’s repeat donors overcame that disparity: When previous donations from people who gave money during that period are included, Mr. Obama still collected more money from 215 of the 350 communities.
Another of the most Obama-friendly communities in the United States also has Romney family ties.
Nearly 2,000 people in Ann Arbor, Mich., have given to the presidential candidates, and 91 percent of those have given to Mr. Obama, even though Mr. Romney’s father was governor of the state and the Republican candidate was born in the state.
Bernie Donkerbrook, a 66-year-old retiree who gave $250 to Mr. Romney, can’t escape the liberals — not even in his home, where his wife is a “hard-core Democrat.” His political views are just part of what lends him a contrarian streak that gives him pleasure.
“Ann Arbor is a chronically historical bastion of liberal policy. It’s a huge college town, with the University of Michigan, and lots of academics are classically liberal. I’ve been here for 17 years and not only am I conservative, but I went to Michigan State rather than University of Michigan, and I take great pride in wearing Michigan [State] green,” he said.
Attempting to sway his neighbors would have little effect, he said, which is why he expresses his political views through his checkbook.
“It’s a way of attempting to make a bit of a difference and strengthen and influence my viewpoint without trying to knock on doors and argue,” he said.
People tend to gravitate into “intellectually incestuous” communities, he said, pointing to his wife, a public school teacher and member of the teachers union, where they are exposed to only one point of view.
But even in an intellectual circle the size of a major metropolitan area, underground cliques take shape where contrarians can find solace.
“I have a small consortium of adult male colleagues at the development we live in near the UM golf course, and we have a scotch-tasting gathering every month where we all bring our favorite single-malts and, as it turns out, every one of the six are strong conservatives,” Mr. Donkerbrook said.
The Times’ analysis of 1,000 metropolitan areas counted the amounts given by anyone whose totals passed the $200 threshold for public reporting from May through August. It wasn’t until May when it was clear that Mr. Romney had sewn up the Republican nomination.
In one-third of those areas, neither candidate could claim more than 6 out of 10 donors, and those are the regions for which virtually the whole 2012 campaign is being waged.
But in many of the other neighborhoods, the notion of a close ideological battle seems practically foreign.
In 122 areas reviewed, at least 80 percent of donors gave to Mr. Obama, while Mr. Romney topped that percentage in just 27 regions. But thanks to larger donations per giver, Mr. Romney took in 80 percent of the dollars raised in 73 of the communities.
Residents of Midland, Texas, have given $600,000 to the candidates in recent months, and 98 percent has gone to Mr. Romney. Homemaker Bridget Hyde, who has given $208 to Mr. Obama, belongs to the minority 2 percent.
“I do not talk politics in Midland,” Ms. Hyde said.
For precisely that reason, though, even in the most ideologically lopsided towns may be hiding more like-minded people than many expect.
“I went to a Democratic caucus and looked around the room and couldn’t believe how many people I knew in Midland who were Democrats,” Ms. Hyde said. “My friend looked at me and said, ‘Of course. It would be easier to come out and say you’re gay in Midland.’”
Democrats in Texas, she said, just like Republicans in Massachusetts, are likely more informed and considered in their beliefs than their political kin elsewhere.
“The good thing about being in a minority politically is you have to really think about it,” she said. “You question yourself every day: Why do I hold this position? If you aren’t pretty thoughtful about your position, it doesn’t really last.”
© Copyright 2013 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
About the Author
Luke Rosiak is a projects reporter on The Washington Times’ investigative team. He formerly covered lobbying and campaign finance for two watchdog groups as well as transportation for The Washington Post. Luke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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