Party Competition and Industrial Structure in the 2012 Elections

Oct 21, 2013

Download the paper (PDF) by Thomas Ferguson, Paul Jorgensen, and Jie Chen

This working paper by Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Thomas Ferguson, Paul Jorgensen, and Jie Chen analyzes patterns of industrial structure and party competition in the 2012 presidential election. The analysis rests on a new and more comprehensive campaign finance database that catches far more of the myriad ways businesses and major investors make political contributions than previous studies. By drawing on this unified database, the paper is able to show that both major parties depend on very large donors to a greater extent than past studies have estimated.

The paper outlines the firm and sectoral bases of support for the major party nominees, as well as for Republican candidates who competed for the GOP presidential nomination. The paper shows that President Obama’s support within big business was broader than hitherto recognized. A central conclusion is that many major companies in the sectors most involved in the recent controversies over surveillance were among the president’s strongest supporters. The paper also analyzes patterns of business support for the Tea Party in Congress, showing that certain parts of business are more supportive of Tea Party candidates than others. The role of climate change, financial regulation, and other issues in the election is discussed at length.

Key Findings:

  • Existing data sources used for studies of campaign finance have a variety of serious flaws.
  • As a result, the degree to which major parties’ presidential candidates depend on very large donors has been underestimated and the role small donors play exaggerated.
  • The relation between the money split between the parties and the proportion of votes received by their candidates in House and Senate races appears to be quite straightforward.
  • Firms and executives in industries strongly affected by proposed regulations limiting greenhouse gas emissions heavily backed Mitt Romney. So did much, but not all, of finance.
  • President Obama’s support within big business was broader than hitherto recognized. His level of support from firms in telecommunications and software was very strong indeed, sometimes equaling or exceeding Romney’s. Many firms and sectors most involved in the recent controversies over surveillance were among the President’s strongest supporters.
  • Republican candidates showed sharply different levels of contributions from small donors; President Obama’s campaign, while heavily dependent on large donors, attracted more support from small donors than did his Republican opponent.
  • Big business support for Tea Party candidates for Congress was substantial, but well below levels for more mainstream Republicans. Many of the same sectors that strongly supported Romney also backed Tea Party candidates. Backing for Tea Party candidates by Too Big To Fail banks ran above the average of business as a whole by every measure.

Read "Party Competition and Industrial Structure in the 2012 Elections: Who's Really Driving the Taxi to the Dark Side?" by Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Thomas Ferguson, Paul Jorgensen, and Jie Chen.

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