Political values tied to charitable giving

Americans are more likely to give to a charity that reflects the values of their political affiliation, a new research paper says.

Donations to a specific charity by Republicans and Democrats are strongly affected by their perceptions of its alignment with each party’s respective “moral foundations,” Vikas Mittal, co-author of the paper and a marketing professor at Rice University, says in a statement.

Republicans’ moral foundations are rooted in respect for authority and traditions, loyalty and purity, he says, while those of Democrats are rooted in equality and protection from harm.

“The political divide not only impacts political actions, but everyday actions such as donating to charity,” he says.

The paper, which will appear in the International Journal of Research in Marketing: Special Issue on Consumer Identities, is based on three studies.

Two of them consisted of nationally-representative samples of adults, while a third was based on a randomized experiment with students who were asked why liberals or conservatives would give more or less to a specific charity.

In that experiment, researchers gave participants a description of the same charity, Rebuilding Together.

But they tweaked small parts of the description to suggest the charity either was supporting American traditions and loyalty or ensuring equality.

Among participants who indicated morals are highly important, Republicans were nearly three times as likely as Democrats to give when the charity was described as supporting working American families, following traditions and supporting their communities.

Democrats, on other hand, were twice as likely as Republicans to give when the charity was described as ensuring the protection of a home to every individual.

The researchers said their findings were supported in two additional studies that focused on children’s charities, including one for children’s advocacy that seeks to break the cycle of child abuse through prevention, education, advocacy and funding. The charity was described as in sync either with Republican values of purity and loyalty, or Democratic values of equality and protection from harm.

Focusing on participants who value morals highly, the researchers found that when the charity description emphasized protection from harm, Democrats were much more likely than Republicans to give, and when the charity description emphasized purity and loyalty to community, Republicans were more likely than Democrats to give.

“We found that while both Republicans and Democrats tend to equally value justice and caring for the vulnerable, Republicans place a much higher value on issues of purity and respect for authority,” Karen Page Winterich, study co-author and assistant professor of marketing at Pennsylvania State University, says in a statement.

“Given these differences,” she says, “Republicans are more inclined to donate to a charity when these values of purity and respect are met, whereas Democrats are more inclined to donate when the emphasis is purely on equality or protection rather than respect or purity.”

Yinlong Zhang, study co-author and associate professor of marketing at the University of Texas at San Antonio, says that, in addition to focusing on their main mission, charities “must also clarify how their mission is aligned with the moral foundations of a donor’s political identity.”

A simple “repositioning of the charity’s description so that it aligns with a person’s political identity can increase donation intentions two- or threefold,” he says.

“Of course, this raises important questions for charities in terms of their communication strategy,” he says. “But assuming this divide does not exist can only hurt their chances of maximizing donations from liberals and conservatives.”

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