On Tax Day, returns show Obama and Biden fall short of Bush on charitable giving

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In keeping with White House tradition, the president and vice president publicly released their returns on Thursday for national Tax Day. It turns out Republican George Bush opened his wallet substantially wider than Democrats Barack Obama and Joe Biden while residing at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

In 2009, the Barack and Michelle Obama donated 5.9 percent of their income to charity and Joe Biden gave away 1.4 percent of his. While in office, Bush routinely donated more than 10 percent of his income each year.

According to the Center for Philanthropy at Indiana University, more than two-thirds of American households donate to charity, with an average donation of $2,047, or 3 percent of income.

In his 2006 book, “Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism,” Syracuse University Professor Arthur Brooks analyzed charitable giving in the United States and found that conservatives were 30 percent more likely to give, even though liberal families averaged 6 percent higher household incomes. Brooks found that conservatives donate more time and give more blood, and concluded that religious participation was the single strongest predictor of generous behavior.

According to Stanford University’s Hoover Institute, religious people are 25 percent more likely to donate than non-religious people. Religious people are also 38 percent more likely to be conservative.

In 2007, the giving broke down on party lines like this:

Cheney: 5.5 %

Bush: 17.6%

McCain: 27 %

Obama: 5.6 %

Clinton 14.7 %

Biden: 0.3 %

Biden has a particularly stingy history — right before the 2008 election USA Today reported that the Bidens donated an average $369 a year over the past 10 years, 0.2 percent of their income for the decade.

Brooks looked at the states Bush won in 2004 and found that on average, their residents gave more to charity than the states that went for Kerry.  What’s more:

Bush carried 24 of the 25 states where charitable giving was above average. In the 10 reddest states, in which Bush got more than 60 percent majorities, the average percentage of personal income donated to charity was 3.5. Residents of the bluest states, which gave Bush less than 40 percent, donated just 1.9 percent.

Around the same time John Stossel did an unscientific experiment on 20/20 comparing how much a Salvation Army Bucket could collect in one day in San Francisco (the most liberal place in America according to The Daily Caller) vs. Sioux Falls, S.D. (the heart of a deeply red state). Stossel’s results?

Even though people in Sioux Falls make, on average, half as much money as people in San Francisco, and even though the San Francisco location was much busier — three times as many people were within reach of the bucket — by the end of the second day, the Sioux Falls bucket held twice as much money.

A New York Times op-ed titled, “Bleeding Heart Tightwads,” went even further than Brooks’s book:

A study by Google found an even greater disproportion: Average annual contributions reported by conservatives were almost double those of liberals.

Other research has reached similar conclusions. The “generosity index” from the Catalogue for Philanthropy typically finds that red states are the most likely to give to nonprofits, while Northeastern states are least likely to do so.

…. Come on liberals, redeem yourselves, and put your wallets where your hearts are.

Such results surprised Brooks himself:

When I started doing research on charity, I expected to find that political liberals — who, I believed, genuinely cared more about others than conservatives did — would turn out to be the most privately charitable people. So when my early findings led me to the opposite conclusion, I assumed I had made some sort of technical error. I re-ran analyses. I got new data. Nothing worked. In the end, I had no option but to change my views.

E-mail Aleksandra.