Do Conservatives Really Give More to Charity Than Liberals? A Powerful Anecdote Fuels Debate.

There are numerous anecdotal stories available on websites, many of them full of wit and wisdom, some of them just silly and spurious.

A simple but powerful story has surfaced that seems to display at least a grain of truth.

According to the story, conservatives and liberals have a much different view of what it means to be compassionate. This is how it goes:

The Difference Between Conservatives and Liberals

A Conservative and Liberal are walking down the street when they came to a homeless person. 

The Conservative gave him his business card and told him to come to his business for a job.

He then took twenty dollars our of his pocket and gave it to the homeless person.

The Liberal was very impressed and when they came to another homeless person he decided to help.

He walked over to the homeless person and gave him directions to the welfare office.

In all fairness, both Conservatives and Liberals are likely to walk on by.

However, there may be some truth to the anecdote, since conservatives are reportedly more likely to give to “charity” than self-described liberals, according to several studies.

There has been some criticism of that finding, however. An L.A. Times report claims that conservatives giving to churches ‘doesn’t count’ as charity, and that conservatives are ‘richer,’ and therefore that is the explanation for the disparity:

The problem was that the survey [from the 2006 book “Who Really Cares” by Arthur C. Brooks] didn’t seem to accurately measure those categories and didn’t distinguish well between social conservatives or liberals and fiscal conservatives or liberals. 

What the MIT researchers did find, however, was that conservatives give more to religious organizations, such as their own churches, and liberals more to secular recipients. Conservatives may give more overall, MIT says, but that’s because they tend to be richer, so they have more money to give and get a larger tax benefit from giving it.

On the other hand, even poorer conservatives across the country give more to charity as a percentage of income, according to

Less well-off families from red states donate a relatively higher – and growing – proportion of their money to charity, while those at the top have been giving a smaller share as their income has increased, a new extensive study has revealed.

Respected non-government sector newspaper The Philanthropy Chronicle collated the itemized charity deductions on the tax returns of hundreds of millions of Americans between 2006 and 2012, the latest year available. While only about a third of all givers write off their charity expenses, the sums included about 80 percent of all donations in the country.

The columnist George Will found several other striking metrics that underscore this point:

  • Although liberal families’ incomes average 6 percent higher than those of conservative families, conservative-headed households give, on average, 30 percent more to charity than the average liberal-headed household ($1,600 per year vs. $1,227).
  • People who reject the idea that “government has a responsibility to reduce income inequality” give an average of four times more than people who accept that proposition.
  • Conservatives also donate more time and give more blood.

It appears that despite the common objections to the studies, there is at least some truth to the notion that conservatives give more to charity, while liberals see the government as a source of ‘charity.’

Whether or not one agrees with the poignant anecdote, it at least gives people something to think about.

What do you think?

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