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Andrew Yang speaks to supporters in Muscatine, Iowa. (Louis Jacobson/PolitiFact) Andrew Yang speaks to supporters in Muscatine, Iowa. (Louis Jacobson/PolitiFact)

Andrew Yang speaks to supporters in Muscatine, Iowa. (Louis Jacobson/PolitiFact)

Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman January 24, 2020

How many Americans actually donate to political candidates?

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  • He’s likely in the ballpark, but the number can only be determined by polling, and different polls have found different numbers. 

  • Yang was citing an online poll in June that found 8% of Americans said they had given to a 2020 presidential candidate.

  • Pew found based on data from the American National Election Studies questionnaires after the last presidential election that 12% said they donated, but that wasn’t limited to federal candidates.

MUSCATINE, Iowa — Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang wants more Americans donating to political campaigns. The business entrepreneur pitched a "democracy dollars" idea that would give every voter $100 to spend on any candidate they wish — but the voter has to use the money or lose it. 

Doing this, Yang told voters at a town hall in Muscatine on Jan. 23, would boost the influence of Americans of average means compared with corporations. The percentage of Americans who give to campaigns is quite small, he said.

"Right now 5% of Americans donate to political campaigns and candidates," Yang said. 

PolitiFact reporters were covering the event in the student center at Muscatine Community College when Yang made this remark, and we wondered if it was true. 

The figure is not based off of actual donations, but rather a survey asking people if they’ve donated. We found estimates vary.

 

Yang’s claim about American political donors rests on one poll that is several months old but offers a snapshot of how many people said they were making such donations. 

A CNBC/SurveyMonkey online poll in June found that 8% of Americans said they have donated to a 2020 presidential candidate. An additional 19% responded, "no but I plan to." The poll is based on what people said — it isn’t based on records of who actually donated.

RELATED: Fact-checking Andrew Yang in Muscatine, Iowa

The Pew Research Center analyzed data from a major election survey called the American National Election Studies. That data showed about 12% of Americans said they gave to candidates in 2016, 9% gave to parties and 5% gave to other groups. 

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The survey does not specify the type of candidate (federal, state or local). It included contributions of any size. The data is based on self-reported survey responses.

There’s an important distinction between donations above and below $200.

Under Federal Election Commission rules, campaigns must register the personal data of donors who give $200 or more. (That includes name, occupation, employer and ZIP code.) However, if a donor gives an amount less than $200, the campaign is not required to disclose the donor's name. 

The Center for Responsive Politics found that a tiny share of Americans make federal donations of more than $200. In 2016 about a half-percent — 0.52% — of the U.S. population donated $200 or more to political candidates, parties or political action committees. Overall, about two-thirds of the value of donations come from donations of $200 and above, and one-third come from donations that are smaller. 

RELATED: Thinking small: Why Bernie Sanders and other 2020 candidates seek low-dollar campaign contributions

Our ruling

Yang said, "Right now 5% of Americans donate to candidates." 

He’s likely in the ballpark, but the number can only be determined by polling, and different polls have found different numbers. 

Yang was citing an online poll in June that found 8% of Americans said they had given to a 2020 presidential candidate. That was more than a year before the election.

Pew found based on data from the American National Election Studies questionnaires after the last presidential election that 12% said they donated, but that wasn’t limited to federal candidates.

Because the best estimates are small, though not quite as small as what Yang said, we rate the statement Mostly True. 


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Our Sources

CNBC, Majority of Americans say they won’t donate to 2020 presidential campaigns, July 1, 2019

Center for Public Integrity and 538, 1 in 5 Democratic donors are giving to multiple candidates, Accessed Jan. 24, 2020

Center for Responsive Politics, Donor demographics, 2016

SurveyMonkey, CNBC|SurveyMonkey poll: "Invest in You", July 2019

Pew Research Center, 5 facts about U.S. political donations, May 17, 2017

Andrew Yang campaign website, Accessed Jan. 24, 2020

PolitiFact, Hillary Clinton says her campaign 'depends on small donations for the majority of our support' March 21, 2016

PolitiFact, Heather McGhee: Less than 1% of 1% give $200 or more to campaigns, April 3, 2014

PolitiFact, Sen. John McCain fought to clean up money in politics. Are we better off today? Aug. 31, 2018

Email interview, SY Lee, Andrew Yang campaign spokesman, Jan. 24, 2020

Email interview, Eliza Newlin Carney, board of directors for Civic Circle,  Jan. 24, 2020

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How many Americans actually donate to political candidates?

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