Agriculture’s Financial Role in the 2016 Elections: Part 1


As November 8, 2016—Election Day—has continued to creep closer and closer, the nightly news is increasingly filled with pundits discussing the latest polls, candidates’ policy stances and gaffes, and financial numbers about expenditures on political advertisements. During election periods, my interests to better understand the black-box of the U.S. election cycles also heighten. And, naturally, I was tempted to not only become more informed about the overall picture, but also dig a bit deeper to understand linkages to my professional interests.

For me, one of the blackest of the elections cycle black-boxes has been contributions to political campaigns. Where do they come from? To whom are these contributions going? How much is being contributed? And to what degree is the agricultural sector involved?

One reason I became particularly interested in these questions was my stumbling on the website about a year ago. The website is maintained by the Center for Response Politics (CRP), which collects and provides access to heaps of data related to political contributions. What is particularly useful about these data is that they categorize contributors based on the industry in which they work, which they infer from the occupation of a contributor or the name of contributing organization submitted when a contribution is made.These data include all contributions since the 2014 midterm elections and were current through September 2, 2016.

My first stab at exploring these data was simply to look at the big picture characterizing the 2016 election cycle.

The table below breaks apart contributions by those that were classified by the CRP as being part of the agricultural industry and those that were not. The data indicate that, in all, over 11.3 million contributions were made across all races in the 2016 election cycle. Contributions from those in the agricultural industry accounted for approximately 1.1%. Furthermore, these 11.3 million contributors have provided over $2.46 billion to political campaigns (or organizations associated with political campaigns), with nearly $40 million coming from the agricultural sector.

Number of contributionsAverage ContributionTotal Contributions
Not associated with agricultural industry11,194,074$216$2,421,234,802
Associated with agricultural industry124,836$316$39,451,298


Clearly, there are a lot of people and organizations who have put up a lot of money into the on-going elections campaigns. But how have these contributions been distributed across political parties? The next table provides a snapshot of this distribution, and I have again divided the table to assess behaviors by those associated with the agricultural industry and those outside the industry.

Number of contributionsAverage ContributionTotal Contributions
Not associated with agricultural industryDemocrat4,082,843$164$671,336,281
Associated with agricultural industryDemocrat11,577$251$2,909,389


The data show that outside of the agricultural industry, the vast majority of contributors (83%) provided monetary support to the Democratic party. And while the average contribution of those supporting Democratic candidates was quite a bit smaller than the contribution of those supporting a Republican candidate, the sheer number of contributors resulted in excess of $235 million more for the Democrats.

Contributions from the agricultural industry look different. First, 55% of the contributions were made to Republican candidates and each of these contributions was, on average, $360 more than an average contribution to a Democratic candidate. Overall, the total amount of political contributions from the agricultural sector to Republican candidates exceed those to Democratic candidates by 3-to-1.

Lastly, while there are elections in all 435 congressional, 34 of the 100 Senate seats, and 14 state governors, and these races are very important, it seems impossible to not be completely overtaken by the enthralling contest of the presidential race. As such, I wanted to break the data down by contributions to the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates.

Number of contributionsAverage ContributionTotal Contributions
Not associated with agricultural industryClinton708,510$267$189,431,954
PACs and others10,444,642$212$2,216,713,939
Associated with agricultural industryClinton1,916$333$638,299
PACs and others122,511$315$38,622,802


The table above indicates that, regardless of the industry, the majority of identifiable contributions have gone to the Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton. The total amount of contributions from the agricultural industry have favored Clinton by an 77%-to-23% margin, this gap is even larger (93%-to-7%) in the non-agricultural sectors. Despite these large differences, it is necessary to make the caveat that contributions can also be made to Political Action Committees (PACs) rather than a specific candidate, and that PACs can then allocate their contributions according to their agendas that can include contributions to each campaign (this is yet another black-box that I have found to be even more difficult to unpack).

In several future posts, I will dig even deeper into these data to explore how things break down across more specific agricultural industry categories and provide more insight into the geographical differences in political contributions. Stay tuned.

Is there anything specific that you’re curious to know? How do these data compare to your impressions of political contributions?

(Photo by ♡ dare to share beauty is licensed under CC BY 4.0)


About Author

Dr. Anton Bekkerman is a former associate professor in the Department of Agricultural Economics and Economics at Montana State University. He currently serves as the director of the New Hampshire Agricultural Experiment Station. Bekkerman's primary areas of research are grain marketing, basis and price forecast modeling, understanding how grain prices are affected by changes in supply chain infrastructures and quality demands, and analyzing the economic trade-offs of adopting alternative dryland cropping systems in Montana. Although Bekkerman grew up on the east coast, he had made a small step toward production agricultural after ranching a flock of six backyard chickens.

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