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Are the 1% of the 1% pulling politics in a conservative direction?

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In the 2012 election 28 percent of all disclosed political contributions came from just 31,385 people. In a nation of 313.85 million, these donors represent the 1% of the 1%, an elite class that increasingly serves as the gatekeepers of public office in the United States.

 
The more conservative the Republican, the more dependent that Republican is likely to be on the nation's biggest individual donors, a new Sunlight Foundation analysis of campaign finance data finds. By "biggest individual donors," we are referring to a group we named “the 1% of the 1%” after the share of the U.S. population that they represent. These wealthy donors may be pulling Republicans to the political right, acting as a force for a more polarized Congress. The polarizing effect for Democrats, meanwhile, is unclear. If anything, more liberal Democrats depend a little less on 1% of the 1% donors than conservative Democrats. As we explored in our big-picture look at the 1% of the 1%, the biggest donors in American politics tend to give big sums of money because they want one party to win. Approximately 85 percent of the top individual donors in U.S. politics contributed at least 90 percent of their money to one party or the other. By contrast, less than four percent of these donors spread their money roughly equally between the two parties (a 60-40 split or less).
Figure 1.
the one percent of the one percent and partisanship The above figure treats all Democrats and Republicans as equivalent. In reality, both parties contain some moderates and some extremists. Some -- Ezra Klein, most prominently -- have argued that while small money exerts a polarizing tug on the parties, big money is consensus-oriented and centralizing. At the time, I responded that if big money was consensus-oriented, it was doing a terrible job of building consensus. I went further to hypothesize that big money might also be polarizing. Turns out I was more right than I knew then.

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The Political 1% of the 1% in 2012

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Graphics by Amy Cesal and Ben Chartoff


 

1% of the 1% logo

In the 2012 election 28 percent of all disclosed political contributions came from just 31,385 people. In a nation of 313.85 million, these donors represent the 1% of the 1%, an elite class that increasingly serves as the gatekeepers of public office in the United States.

 
More than a quarter of the nearly $6 billion in contributions from identifiable sources in the last campaign cycle came from just 31,385 individuals, a number equal to one ten-thousandth of the U.S. population. In the first presidential election cycle since the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. FEC, candidates got more money from a smaller percentage of the population than any year for which we have data, a new analysis of 2012 campaign finance giving by the Sunlight Foundation shows. These donors contributed 28.1 percent of all individual contributions in the 2012 cycle, a record high. One sign of the reach of this elite “1% of the 1%”: Not a single member of the House or Senate elected last year won without financial assistance from this group. Money from the nation’s 31,385 biggest givers found its way into the coffers of every successful congressional candidate. And 84 percent of those elected in 2012 took more money from these 1% of the 1% donors than they did from all of their small donors (individuals who gave $200 or less) combined. This elite 1% of the 1% dominated campaign giving even in a year when President Barack Obama reached new small donor frontiers (small donors are defined as individuals giving in increments of less than $200). In 2014, without a presidential race to attract small donors, all indicators are that the 1% of the 1% will occupy an even more central role in the money chase. The nation’s biggest campaign donors have little in common with average Americans. They hail predominantly from big cities, such as New York and Washington. They work for blue-chip corporations, such as Goldman Sachs and Microsoft. One in five works in the finance, insurance and real estate sector. One in 10 works in law or lobbying. The median contribution from this group of elite donors? $26,584. That’s a little more than half the median family income in the United States. Watch a video summary of The Political 1% of the 1%

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ClearMaps: A Mapping Framework for Data Visualization

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Despite the recent explosion of web based cartography tools, making effective maps for data visualization remains a challenge. While tools like Google Maps are great for helping navigate the world they fail terribly at data presentation tasks. Many features like roads and cities only get in the way of telling compelling stories with data. In fact, even the distance between places can be a distraction – who cares how far away Alaska is when the goal is to make a simple comparison between US states?

To overcome some of the limitations with existing mapping tools, Sunlight Lab is releasing ClearMaps, an ActionScript framework for interactive cartographic visualization. In addition to giving designers and developers total control over presentation the project aims to address some of the common technical challenges faced when building interactive, data driven maps for the web. ClearMaps is designed as a lightweight, flexible set of tools for building complex data visualizations. It is a framework not a plug-and-play component (though it could be a starting point for those wishing to make reusable tools).

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