Surprise! Conservatives are more generous than liberals

Billy Hallowell Contributor
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If you talk to most liberals, they’ll tell you that conservatives are insensitive, callous and selfish.  To their own detriment, leftists tend to believe that those on the right simply don’t care about the less fortunate.  While this doctrine has been embedded in left-leaning gospel for decades, research and reality paint a very different picture — one that has perplexed many of the left’s self-proclaimed “compassionates.”  With one of the worst economic downturns in American history still impacting the lives of millions of Americans, understanding this subject is paramount.

Out of all of the left’s discombobulated theoretical constructs, the ludicrous assertion that conservatives simply do not care about society’s downtrodden is particularly frustrating, as it vehemently denies both reality and logic.  On the surface, the notion that liberals are the world’s most charitable individuals could easily be accepted.  After all, many on the left talk quite a bit about helping the poor and providing social safety nets.  However, the left rarely explores the negative consequences of its policies.  Furthermore, liberals fail to analyze and comprehend their own deficient charitable giving patterns.

Thomas Sowell captured this overall sentiment in a Nov. 2006 Human Events piece when he wrote, “One of the most pervasive political visions of our time is the vision of liberals as compassionate and conservatives as less caring.”  While myths surrounding leftist giving and volunteerism continue to be perpetuated, American researchers have taken a pretty clear and concise look at this issue and the case is closed: Conservatives out-give and out-volunteer the opposition.  Don’t believe me?  Examine the facts.

In 2006, independently-registered researcher and author Arthur Brooks tackled the issue of political ideology as it pertains to giving.  According to a 2006 ABC News piece by John Stossel and Kristina Kendall, Brooks’ research has shown that conservatives donate about 30 percent more than do liberals.  Interestingly, on average, conservatives earn less than liberals.

Brooks also claims that financial donations aren’t the only difference at hand.  When it comes to an issue as random as blood donations, conservatives are about 17 percent more likely than their liberal counterparts to donate blood!  But, that’s not all.  In 2008, George Will covered some of Brooks’ other findings.  As it turns out, in 2004, George W. Bush carried 24 out of 25 of the states in which charitable giving exceeded the national average.  According to Will,

“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.”

Clearly, there are a number of factors that influence the disparity between conservative and liberal giving.  Two reasons that Brooks mentions in his own work are religious affiliation and the way in which liberals and conservatives view the government’s role in society.  To address the former, a higher proportion of conservatives are religious and, thus, report routinely giving to churches and faith-based ministries.

In terms of the latter, it’s no secret that liberals are more prone to accept the notion that it’s the government’s responsibility to provide direct services to the people.  While conservatives are by no means opposed to essential state-sponsored programs, they place a higher value on personal responsibility and the building of self-driven social capital.  According to Brooks, “…You find that people who believe it’s the government’s job to make incomes more equal, are far less likely to give their money away.”  Compassion, however, should be rooted in personal engagement; liberals fail to match conservatives in this area.

In exploring the reaction to the consistent findings that conservatives are more charitable, one cannot help but chuckle at the left’s inability to accept the facts.  In Dec. 2008, Ezra Klein attempted to dismantle Brooks’ findings.  In addressing religiosity, Klein wrote, “A recent survey from Google similarly found that self-identified conservatives gave more to charity than did self-identified liberals. But they also found that ‘if donations to all religious organizations are excluded, liberals give slightly more to charity than conservatives do.’”

Klein goes on to question whether religious giving constitutes a “membership fee” of sorts.  If more non-religious individuals on the left spent time working with churches and faith-based non-profits they’d realize that the vast majority serve populations in need and do, in fact, work in the charity realm.  Dismissing all donations to “religious organizations” would be silly, as it would literally ignore an insanely large portion of the charity work that is conducted (and funded by conservatives) in America and beyond.  During such difficult economic times, many of these charities are very literally preventing families from plunging into the abyss of poverty.  Perhaps Klein’s most intriguing quip was, “Saying that conservatives give more to charity is another way of saying that conservatives are more religious.”  How does one even begin to argue with that logic?

In a separate report for the Hoover Institution, Brooks explains that religious individuals are more likely (25 percentage points) than secular persons to give monies and 23 points “…more likely to volunteer time.”  So, even if Klein’s downplay-religious-giving theory held, plenty of evidence shows that conservatives are more apt than liberals to, at the least, give their time.

Interestingly, Nicholas Kristof (a self-described liberal) of The New York Times wrote on this same subject back in 2008.  Unlike others on the left who sought to dismiss Brooks’ data, Kristof wrote, “We liberals are personally stingy.”  Kristof went on to cover other research that backs up Brooks’ findings.  According to Kristof, “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.”

True charity starts at home.  It’s one thing to advocate spending tax-payer dollars to solve social problems, but it’s an entirely different (and, in my opinion, more noble) beast to invest oneself in a cause, both through financial investment and volunteerism.  While conservatives tend to oppose some social programs that will add to yearly deficits and, subsequently, the national debt, they are the most apt to personally involve themselves in fixing social problems.  At a time when local, state and federal budgets are beyond strapped, we should at least credit conservatives for investing in America’s future.

Billy Hallowell is a journalist and commentator who focuses on faith, media and society. Through journalism, media, public speaking appearances and the blogosphere, Hallowell has worked for more than a decade to inspire and motivate his generation. He has been published and featured in political and cultural books, textbooks, articles and Web sites that focus on the youth of America and its role in the future of our world.