As an unprecedented and contentious election season draws to a close, Harvard faculty, staff, and students overwhelmingly contributed to Democratic candidates — including President-elect Joseph R. Biden, Jr. — over their Republican counterparts this election cycle, a Crimson analysis found.
Using publicly available Federal Election Commission filings, The Crimson analyzed 139,885 records of federal political contributions from Harvard affiliates between January 2017 and October 2020. In this nearly four-year span, Harvard staff and students contributed $6,729,018 to political candidates, committees, and parties — largely Democratic.
The current FEC data continues to reinforce the popular belief that Harvard’s staff and student base is mostly liberal. A 2015 Crimson analysis found Harvard faculty contributed overwhelmingly to federal Democratic campaigns and political organizations.
For this story, The Crimson analyzed the federal political spending of 8,134 contributors who reported “Harvard University” as their employer. Of these affiliates, 741 were faculty listed on University directories and websites as professors, preceptors, lecturers, and other instructors. Another 1,194 were students, while 5,999 were self-reported staff in non-teaching roles.
In the presidential election, the vast majority of Harvard donors chose to contribute to Biden over his Republican counterpart, President Donald J. Trump.
Among teaching staff, 270 faculty members contributed a total of $317,835 to Biden, while just five faculty members contributed a total of $3,030 to Trump.
A 2018 Crimson survey found 88 percent of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences believed Trump’s job performance was “very poor.” Similarly, the survey revealed that only 2 percent of FAS faculty members reported voting for Trump in the 2016 election.
Likewise, students’ contributions strongly favored Biden in the general election. Harvard students contributed $24,136 to Biden, while Trump garnered only $246 from them. Just four students, across all the University’s schools, contributed to the incumbent president.
The political contributions reflect a student body that largely leans left of the national electorate. The Crimson’s September survey of the Class of 2024 revealed that 90.1 percent of surveyed first-year students planned to vote for Biden in the presidential election.
Non-teaching staff had the greatest proportion of contributions to Trump, earmarking just over 3 percent of $410,361 in presidential contributions for the incumbent president.
While some surveyed faculty and students alike have indicated support for third-party candidates Jo Jorgensen and Howie G. Hawkins, the Libertarian and Green Party nominees for president did not receive any contributions from Harvard affiliates. In The Crimson’s freshman survey, just 2.3 and 0.5 percent of first-years indicated support for Jorgensen and Hawkins, respectively.
Harvard donors also contribute far higher dollar amounts to Democratic candidates and committees over their Republican counterparts.
Out of the $6,729,018 reported contributions from Harvard affiliates this election cycle, $5,330,055 in contributions went to partisan candidates and organizations.
Faculty members had the highest average contribution to Democrats: On average, Democratic-supporting faculty contributed $4,112 to Democrats, spending a total of $2,157,753 to support that party.
Faculty also were more likely to contribute to other Republican candidates than to Trump specifically. While only 0.95 percent of faculty presidential contributions went to Trump, 4.17 percent of all faculty partisan contributions went to Republican candidates, a rate similar to the one reported in The Crimson’s 2015 survey.
Independent and third-party candidates — including those from the Democratic-Farmer-Labor and Libertarian parties — received $35,997 from Harvard faculty.
Students, meanwhile, contributed the largest percentage of their total political spending to Democrats. Out of $170,819 in campaign contributions, 97.6 percent — or $166,772 — ended up in the hands of Democratic candidates and committees. Notably, Republican candidates only received $1,080 from Harvard students, while independent candidates received $2,966.
According to the Crimson’s Class of 2024 profile, while 57 percent of Harvard’s freshmen class identified as Democrats, only 5 percent identify as Republicans. A further 13 percent of the first-year student body identified as independent.
While Harvard faculty, students, and staff all preferred contributing to Democrats, each of the groups differed in their preferences in the Democratic primary. Contribution data from before April 8, 2020 — the date that Biden became the presumptive nominee — reveals that while Harvard affiliates as a whole preferred Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth A. Warren, faculty uniquely preferred Biden over progressive challengers.
Within the faculty, Warren led the pack in fundraising during the Democratic primary, garnering $102,137 in faculty contributions to Biden’s $46,651 and Sanders’ $18,404. But Biden was an unpopular choice among students and staff by contrast: Only 10.9 percent and 2.56 percent of staff and student contributions, respectively, went to Biden during the primary.
Among student contributors, Sanders and Warren were the clearly preferred candidates. Sanders was the most popular candidate, receiving $38,936 and accounting for 59 percent of all student contributions. Fellow progressive Warren was the second most popular, raking in $22,507 — and 34 percent — of student contributions. And Andrew M. Yang — who drew large crowds at a rally last year in Cambridge — narrowly beat out Biden in student funds, receiving $1,866 to the former vice president’s $1,677.
Similarly, staff contributions revealed a preference for Warren and Sanders over Biden. While Warren and Sanders drew $199,661 and $169,430, respectively, staff opted to contribute just $51,477 to Biden.
Despite these differences in primary preferences, Harvard affiliates quickly unified behind Biden after the Democratic primary, contributing $48,039 in the month of April alone.
Of the $6.7 million Harvard affiliates contributed in this election cycle, nearly 88 percent was spent on non-presidential races. In total, Harvard affiliates contributed to 676 candidates and committees; aggregate donations ranged from $672,039 to Biden for President to $4 total to Hoyos For Congress.
Many of the top recipients other than presidential candidates included Democratic and Republican party organizations. Harvard affiliates contributed $127,466 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, $124,868 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and $145,642 to the Democratic National Committee. They sent $43,957 to the Republican National Committee.
Individual candidates who garnered significant funds from Harvard affiliates include North Carolina congressional candidate Daniel “Dan” K. McReady, who received $57,334; Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), who received $52,784; Democratic Massachusetts Congressional Candidate Dan A. Koh ’07, who received $44,450; and Democratic Kansas State Representative Susan Ruiz, who received $40,000.
Harvard affiliates contributed to races spanning 47 states and the District of Columbia. From incumbent Senator Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) in Alaska to Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) in Illinois, and Timothy “Tim” W. Bjorkman in South Dakota to Sara I. Gideon in Maine, Harvard affiliates contributed to races in states large and small. The Crimson aggregated the sum of contributions to committees based in each state to obtain state contribution totals, excluding intermediary committees like ActBlue and WinRed which process contributions.
The District of Columbia received the most contributions from faculty and staff. But Vermont — where Bernie Sanders’s campaign headquarters was located — topped the list of regional contributions by students, taking in $17,512.
After D.C. and Massachusetts — which saw $1,152,916 and $809,494 in contributions, respectively — Harvard affiliates contributed the most to Pennsylvania, sending $712,238 to the Keystone State. Pennsylvania ultimately played a crucial role in this year’s presidential election, delivering 20 electoral votes to drive Biden to victory.
Following Pennsylvania were states with smaller sums: California, with $217,088, Colorado, with $151,940, and New York, with $141,501.
Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, its flagship faculty, manages instruction at the College and in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. FAS contributed the second most of all University faculties, at $934,608.
Much like in the 2015 Crimson study, the faculty of FAS skewed far leftward in their donations: Of all partisan FAS contributions, $744,143, or 98.82 percent, went to Democrats. The 324 FAS faculty and instructors included in the dataset contributed $3,010 to Republican campaigns and candidates, less than the $5,600 FAS faculty contributed to independent candidates.
Within FAS, the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences — aggregated separate from FAS at large in The Crimson’s study — beat out its liberal arts counterpart. SEAS faculty made mean contributions of $1,885, compared to just $950 from non-SEAS FAS faculty. Notably, all $183,399 in partisan contributions from 42 SEAS faculty went to Democratic candidates.
Though the Kennedy School had fewer contributors, they were more generous on average than their FAS colleagues. The 57 contributors listed as HKS faculty gave $329,109 to political committees, representing 9 percent of the University total and making the Kennedy School the fourth largest contributor. The average of HKS contributions — of which all partisan contributions went to Democrats — was $2,512.29.
The Business School faculty contributed both the most per faculty member as well as in total, with mean contributions of $3,666, and a total of $990,668 in contributions.
The Business School also boasted the largest share of contributions to Republicans. While faculty contributed $571,870 to Democrats, they also contributed $55,500, or 8.85 percent, to the GOP. This marks a sharp decrease, however, from the Crimson’s 2015 study, which reported that roughly 37 percent of contributions from Business School faculty went to Republicans.
The Business School was an outlier among its professional school peers. The Law School contributed the second-most per faculty member, with a mean contribution of $3,538 for a total of $436,196. Nearly all partisan contributions — 99.46 percent — went to Democrats, with only $2,000 contributed to Republicans.
Of all Harvard schools, contributing the least per instructor was the Graduate School of Design, whose faculty contributed just $56 on average.
The Crimson compiled the data for this analysis from publicly available Federal Election Commission records of contribution to federal election candidates and political action committees. Federal law requires the disclosure of political contributions exceeding $200 to a single candidate in an election cycle. The data does not include contributions made to independent expenditure campaigns, super PACs, or nonprofit groups organized under section 501(c)(4) of the tax code which engage in electioneering communications.
All contributions were collected from contributors who listed Harvard as an employer from the first quarter of 2017 to the third quarter of 2020. Federal election laws require donors to truthfully disclose their occupation and employer.
The Crimson then refined the dataset to separate Harvard affiliates into three segments: faculty, staff, and students. Specifically, faculty members were confirmed on a list of active professors, lecturers, preceptors, and other teaching staff drawn from University directories and websites. The contributions of faculty who teach at multiple Harvard schools were counted towards each school they taught at; sums and means per school thus account for both of their positions.
Students include all donors who listed their occupation as any variant of “student.” Staff include all affiliates who do not match the list of active faculty members, do not have “student” as their listed occupation, and do not have any variation of “professor” as their stated occupation. As such, contributions from retired, emeriti, or deceased professors are notably not included in either the faculty or staff groups, but do appear in the Harvard affiliate total.
ActBlue and WinRed are respectively Democratic and Republican fundraising sites. They rarely disburse contributions themselves, but rather act as a platform to process contributions for candidates. For Presidential candidates, all ActBlue and WinRed contributions earmarked for a specific candidate were included in contribution totals. Although ActBlue and WinRed are not registered as partisan committees with the Federal Election Commission, contributions to them were included in our party totals due to the partisan nature of these sites. Finally, ActBlue and WinRed were not included in the geographic distribution of committees due to their intermediary nature.
—Staff writer Andy Z. Wang can be reached at email@example.com.
—Staff writer Natalie L. Kahn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @natalielkahn.
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