This newly published study claims that red state people are more charitable than blue state people with the unequivocal headline, “Red States more charitable“. See there, bunch of stingy commie Others who voted for the Nigerian vs genuine Americans who loved Sarah. But as with all statistics if we tease this a little bit might there be some other possible conclusions.
While the article only talks about a few states the website of the survey has the complete list. [Hint: In articles, esp. from political blogs ALWAYS go look at the original source] Just among red states, the red states that had lower ratios (less “giving”) are mostly plains states and the red states that had higher ratio (more “giving”) are mostly southern states, certainly a statistically significantly conclusion to the casual eye. Another study, that I can’t find at the moment but that I quoted recently, showed a similar pattern, religiosity is lower in the plains states than southern states. There is not as strong a pattern in the blue states but generally the highest giving states are more southern or border, but also some of the least giving are also the least religious. Now both the article and the original source say this as well, but the implication they leave is that religious give more – is that really true? Let’s dig deeper.
Now another obvious pattern, strong but not completely correlated is that the states with the most giving are generally the poorer states, good for them, charity starts at home. But having Utah on the very top of the list, Idaho near the top, but very similar states of Montana and Wyoming near the bottom, hum, are we seeing a pattern yet.
A few more tidbits before it’s time for the final exam.
- the definition of most charitable is portion of income not absolute value, IOW, a dollar given in a poor state gets a higher rating in this survey than a dollar given in a richer state
- Two high giving states are also home to large Mormon populations where large tithing is effectively mandatory (Romney may not release his tax returns to the voters but you can be sure the church knows.
- We’ve already seen a correlation between higher income and reduced religiosity.
Still don’t get it. Well, folks, this is from IRS data (which must be voluntary self-selecting survey since this is not the IRS saying this but a private group, which might have some influence; nor is there any claim that the samples by state are proportional to the population of those states; and the organization doing the survey is one that promotes charitable giving which hardly makes them an impartial group).
Still don’t get it, well, maybe that’s because you don’t do that section of Schedule A in your tax return. Donations to religious organizations, not quite the same as United Way or Goodwill, are tax deductible as “contributions”. So in states with high levels of church attendance and especially substantial pressure for tithing, hum, I wonder if that has any effect on these statistics.
I was looking at the original source, always a good thing to do instead of just looking at the web article. I noticed in the sidebar there are multiple articles (different cuts of the data). Naturally Politco only focused in on the article titled, “The Politics of Giving”, but the article, “American’s Generosity Divide” has some good bits:
Religion has a big influence on giving patterns. Regions of the country that are deeply religious are more generous than those that are not.
Already figured that out, but here’s the more telling part which I was hinting at; just in passing they say:
When religious giving isn’t counted, the geography of giving is very different. Some states in the Northeast jump into the top 10 when secular gifts alone are counted. New York would vault from No. 18 to No. 2, and Pennsylvania would climb from No. 40 to No. 4.
My oh my. So we’re finally at the bottom of this. It’s not that religious give more to charity, they give more to their churches. And churches are under no obligation to spend a penny of that giving on charity. They can build ever more buildings with fancier windows and gold inlay bibles or better organs, they can upgrade the parsonage and the pay of various workers, they can spend the money on various kinds of political activism (now allowed, always secret before), they can buy billboards and ads to advertise religion or denounce abortion, they can spend it on retreats and xmas displays, they can spend it to evangelize and recruit. In fact, the mormon church owns a 4B$ shopping complex in Florida which I doubt gives away food to the poor. How much of the contributions go to charity, well, no one knows, because that’s are secret compared to most charitable organizations who are often under the microscope to see what they do with their contributions.
Now compare to United Way or GoodWill or American Cancer Society or even Planned Parenthood, sure they keep some for administration and fund raising but they’re not spending much on obtaining new converts since they don’t actually have any converts. They provide services or research to help all people, not just members of their congregation.
From yet a different breakdown, we see a glimpse at another pattern.
For instance in Alabama the third “highest” givers
The state has only 0.7 registered nonprofits per 1,000 residents—the seventh-lowest rate in the country.
Hum, no charities to give to, but still high giving – I wonder where it’s going. But even with a deep dive we still don’t have enough of the raw data to really see what’s going on and we’re at the mercy of the analysts or reporters who tell us what they want to tell us.
Various other details suggest a far different pattern than the Politco article implied. But we’re not done, there is more:
The rich aren’t the most generous. Middle-class Americans give a far bigger share of their discretionary income to charities than the rich.
The 1 percent really are different. Rich people who live in neighborhoods with many other wealthy people give a smaller share of their incomesto charity than rich people who live in more economically diverse communities.
Sounds kinda like the way the rich pay taxes too.
Anyway, I think even looking at what the original source provided a different picture emerges that what Politco reported. But how about this, what if the original source published the complete details of their data (with proper care about privacy) so that any of us could download load into a spreadsheet and do our own analysis. I bet all sorts of things could be teased out of the data that weren’t provided in these brief reports.
The Internet is supposed to empower this kind of thing, but how many people went beyond the Politico article to the original source or figured out that much of the giving data was distorted by income of the states or amount of religious giving. No, the ten second soundbite was that red states are more generous and I’ll bet 99% of readers left it at that and walked away with that conclusion. Whereas I’ll also bet that an actual critical study of the raw data, esp. subtracting out the giving to church improvement funds, would lead a completely different result.
So read these things critically and don’t just take them at face value, including my blogs too.