Politics U? Political Donations of Denison Employees

By Logan Mallory (also photo credit)

Money makes the political world go ‘round. Candidates rely on donations to reach voters, get their messages out, and help campaign for other candidates who support the cause. Millions of individual donations go into the 3-4 billion dollar totals for modern campaigns that come from a relatively small slice of the population. How does Denison fit into this? And more broadly, how have Denison’s political donations looked over time and in comparison to other colleges in Ohio? Do faculty earn their reputation as left-leaning?

Employees of liberal arts colleges in Ohio donated a total of $883,284 to political groups and candidates from 1989 to 2016, in 3,421 donations from just 684 people.[1] Moreover, 3% of those donations account for about half of the total dollar amount – donations are highly skewed from a small number of bigger givers.

There are 6,472 instructors employed by liberal arts colleges in Ohio[2] but the total number of people employed by these schools is much much larger. Denison, for instance, employs 296 teaching staff, but over 500 maintenance, administrative, and miscellaneous workers. This means that the actual number of people eligible to list Denison as their employer is much larger than the available data suggests. At best, then, 10 percent of faculty are contributing money to candidates and other political groups. This figure is low — in 2016 data Dr. Djupe collected from a national sample, 19 percent of those with postgraduate degrees gave to presidential candidates and 28 percent gave to any candidate. Why would faculty shy away from giving to candidates for office?

Political donations from faculty at Denison University totaled $31,372, from 63 different people. This may not seem like a whole lot of money in the grand scheme of political contributions, but it translates to over $1,300 donated to candidates every year. Compared to the 27 other liberal arts colleges in Ohio, this was the 5th highest total sum. Colleges donating more than Denison over the last 27 years include John Carroll University, Hiram College, Ohio Wesleyan University, and Oberlin College. As the figure below shows, 95.7% of Denison’s donations went to Democrats, as did 90.2% of the money. The top 5 contributors from Denison donated about 40% of Denison’s total, with the number one contributor donating $6,150.

Democratic Contributions with labels

The median individual donation amount across all 27 colleges was $197, but this figure varied from college to college. Denison is slightly below that average, at a median donation amount of $134. If that small number disappoints you, don’t fret. Denison had the third highest number of donations at 234, after Oberlin (1,268)[3] and Ohio Wesleyan (338) (see the figure below). Denison also has a higher donation sum than most other colleges.The median sum of donations across all colleges was $12,974, while Denison’s total donation set was $31,372.

When looking at total donation amounts, the top two colleges stick out. Ohio Wesleyan and Oberlin’s combined donations make up 62.7% of the $883,284 donated by liberal arts colleges in Ohio. Oberlin College, with its incredulous number of political donations, managed to donate every cent of its $316,794 to Democrats. Ohio Wesleyan University stood out in that it had consistently larger individual donations than any other college. The median donation amount for Ohio Wesleyan was $702, more than $500 above the median. Reflective of these generous donations was the total amount of money Ohio Wesleyan donated. In just 338 donations, the university’s contributions totaled a whopping $237,350, with one professor donating half of that. Denison, with 234 donations, only got to $31,372. And Oberlin College, despite having the highest total donation amount, did so over 1,268 donations, and was only $79,444 ahead of Ohio Wesleyan.

contributions sorted w labels

2016 also stood out as a popular year to donate. Likely due to the polarity and media coverage of the contentious election, political donations last year skyrocketed from 317 in the last presidential election in 2012 to 1,799 in 2016. We will have to wait until 2020 though to find out if the 2016 donation frequencies have become the norm though.

donations over time

Overall, it seems that Denison’s political donations are not too different from other liberal arts colleges in Ohio. While the university is in the top 20% in terms of total donation amounts, it does not stand out like Oberlin or Ohio Wesleyan.

The results of this analysis also strongly support the prevailing notion that college professors are unapologetically liberal – 93% of donations went to Democratic candidates and groups, as did 87% of the money. But again, only 10% of college instructors are included in this, so it is difficult to generalize these results to other faculty. While it is probably true, one could easily imagine Republicans’ reluctance to declare their allegiance in such a public way when surrounded by Democrats. Whether the other 90% of people are simply having their spouse do the donating or just want to stay out of politics, it is important to remember that donating to a cause you believe in is a very effective way to further it.

Logan Mallory is a freshman who doesn’t like surveys and is still surprised at how much corn there is in Ohio. You can check out more of his research here or his photography here.


1. The contributions data are available from Open Secrets.org, a website by the Center for Responsive Politics that publishes information about the intersection between money and politics.

2. Faculty employment data was collected from CollegeFactual.com. 

3. It is unclear how many of these donations are from students. While most students list their occupation as “Student” when donating, and most all of Denison’s donations are from faculty, Oberlin may have encouraged its students to list “Oberlin” as their occupation when donating.

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