Joe Biden reeled in 14 times the funding President Donald Trump received from University employees during the 2020 election cycle, according to a Hatchet analysis of Federal Election Commission data.
GW employees donated $128,165 to Biden and $9,210 to Trump ahead of the November election, according to FEC data as of Nov. 1. University donors raised more than 65 percent of the $13,785 in Trump donations among all D.C. universities while contributing more than 20 percent of the more than $600,000 raised for Biden in the District, the data states.
While these figures are a four-fold jump for Trump from 2016, when he received $2,128 from GW employees, they reveal a decline for the Democratic candidate. In 2016, Hillary Clinton raised $195,900 from University employees – more than 1.5 times that of Biden.
Lisa Bowleg, a professor of applied social psychology, donated $518 to ActBlue – an online fundraising platform for Democratic candidates – as a way to “enact” her values during the election cycle. Bowleg said her busy workload as a faculty member prevents her from contributing to an election campaign through traditional methods like volunteering for mail campaigning or phone banking, so she decided to donate instead.
“I don’t have the time to phone bank or stuff envelopes,” she said. “So donating money is one way where I feel I can be making a contribution to candidates and causes I believe in.”
Total donors portray an even greater discrepancy between Democratic and Republican support among employees, as 167 donated to Biden and 10 donated to Trump during the 2020 election cycle, FEC records show. The average Trump donor contributed $921, outpacing the roughly $767 Biden receives from the average donating GW employee.
The disparities in employee donations are similarly pronounced among other D.C. universities, where the average institution can account for roughly 22 Biden donors for every Trump donor.
An independent Inside Higher Ed analysis found employees at colleges and universities nationwide have contributed five times more funding to Biden than Trump – a ratio that still pales in comparison to the Democratic support among GW employees. Biden has outraised Trump by about $4 million from university employees across the country, the analysis states.
Bowleg said political contributions from university employees are no different than those from any other profession because such political involvement is motivated by personal values as opposed to those of an institution.
“I don’t see my donation as having anything to do specifically with the University,” she said. “GW is my employer, but I am not contributing because it aligns with GW. I am doing it very much in line with my own values.”
Bowleg said GW health sciences faculty may be drawn to Biden’s campaign because of his support for policies like expanding affordable health care.
“The prospect of millions of Americans losing access to health insurance is something we are really concerned about,” she said. “Here, we are doing research trying to find out how to promote healthy behaviors, so we have a vested interest in supporting a candidate who supports access to health care.”
Joachim Knop, GW’s director of institutional research and planning, contributed more than $1500 to Trump’s campaign, according to FEC data. He said his value for the economy and Trump’s success in lowering the corporate tax rate motivated him to donate to Trump’s campaign.
As Republican donors represent a small portion of the GW community, Knop said he isn’t surprised Biden’s funding superseded Trump’s at GW and the other universities across the District. Despite the partisan divide, he said he feels University employees of all political views are “tolerated and taken seriously.”
“In my experience, there are relatively few Republican-leaning or conservative supporters working in higher education in general,” Knop said in an email. “It is no surprise to me that the overwhelming support of the GW community trends toward Joe Biden for president.”
Knop said Trump’s rhetoric might detract GW donors, but he thinks “policies and outcomes” should take on more of a focus for American voters. Knop also noted a lack of small-dollar donations and the pandemic’s effect on campaign events as reasons for Biden’s relative lack of GW funding compared to other Democratic nominees in previous election years.
“Biden has not done as much campaigning as Hillary did, and the pandemic has taken away a lot of excitement and traction that a candidate can gather,” he said.
Mitchell Langbert, an associate professor of business management at Brooklyn College, said a lack of enthusiasm could lower a candidate’s donation pool. He said Biden’s voter base could be at the root of the dropoff in contributions from University employees since 2016.
“I think that Biden being probably the most conservative of the Democrats might cause the diminution of the contributions in a university,” he said. “It could be that Biden just doesn’t stimulate a great deal of interest among professors.”
Langbert said the disparity in donations between left- and right-leaning faculty is a common feature at universities because of a secularization and unintentional liberalization of the modern university system in the early 20th century. Langbert said political uniformity became entrenched as many institutions suffered from the false-consensus effect, whereby faculty assume their beliefs are more widely shared than is actually the case and avoid hiring employees with opposing views.
He said he doesn’t think GW’s donor ratios for the two candidates will discourage professors from associating with the University, but the disparity might alienate conservative students and signal a lack of partiality among academic institutions.
“There’s plenty of data from the political science literature that finds people will tend to hire people they agree with politically, and if they see a hint that you’re not one of them, they simply won’t hire you,” he said. “And that’s not just true of academia – it’s true of regular jobs.”
This article appeared in the November 2, 2020 issue of the Hatchet.