Political Geography, Campaign Contributions, and Representation

Political behavior takes place within a geospatial context, yet studies of political phenomena frequently ignore the influence of local economic and political geography on political behavior. This paper examines an important and understudied form of political participation — individual contributions to candidates for the U.S. Congress — to test how geography affects donation patterns. We hypothesize that citizens’ contributions will be a function of the political and economic geography of their metropolitan region: citizens living in more interconnected regions will be more likely to donate to candidates in neighboring districts than those who live in less interconnected regions. To test this hypothesis, we geo-locate all campaign contributions to U.S. Congressional candidates made by individual donors in the 2007-08 election cycle, identifying contributors by their congressional district, their MSA, and the recipient’s district. We use several measures to characterize the interconnectedness of the MSA. Our results indicate that citizens direct their campaign donations in ways that reflect the political and economic geography of their region. This result has important implications for how we understand and study political behavior and the interest that citizens have for elections outside of their own congressional district.

Elisabeth R. Gerber
Professor, Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy
Professor (by courtesy), Department of Political Science
Research Associate, Center for Political Studies
University of Michigan

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