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Money in the Middle: Contribution Strategies among Affluent Donors to Federal Elections, 1980–20081

Scholars across the social sciences have long hypothesized that individual contributors often make political contributions on the basis of partisanship or ideology and that the most active donors may be the most ideologically motivated. But drawing from a newly constructed “big” data set called the Longitudinal Elite Contributor Database (LECD), the author shows that past studies have failed to detect several striking patterns in the strategies of individual contributors: (1) a persistent positive association between frequency of giving and bipartisan or “split contributing” and (2) significant declines in the likelihood of bipartisan contributing since the late 1980s. The author shows that donors who give to both parties also target more moderate incumbents of each political party, relative to partisan donors. Taken together, the findings suggest that repeat individual donors are less partisan in their strategies, and vis-à-vis the incumbents to whom they send donations, these repeat contributors are also less ideologically extreme.