Which Industries Are the Most Liberal and Most Conservative?

Hollywood donors are every bit as liberal as you’d think.

Photo by David McNew/Getty Images

Are movie moguls and media types really the liberal boogeymen of conservative lore?


Whenever Americans donate more than $200 to a political action committee or federal candidate, they are legally required to file a public disclosure form that, among other details, lists their occupation and employer. States have similar requirements. For several years now, Stanford University political science professor Adam Bonica has been using that data to cleverly chart out the ideological leanings of different U.S. industries. His work will probably confirm whatever stereotypes you’ve ever harbored about Hollywood limousine liberals or arch-conservative oil men.

To oversimplify just a bit, Bonica measures how far industries skew to the left or right by looking at the where the candidates they back sit on the ideological spectrum, based on legislative voting records. So a business full of people who give money to lefty politicians, like Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, will register as more liberal than a business that gives to a relative moderate, like Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, even though they’re both Democrats.

So, how do industries shape up? A bit like you’d expect. The graphs below, from a 2013 paper Bonica published in the American Journal of Political Science, show how industries lean based on the number of donors giving to candidates on each point of the ideological map. Academia, entertainment, media, tech, and law really do skew to the left. Real estate, banking, mining, construction, farming, and the fossil fuel industries love the right. The pharmaceutical industry, meanwhile, has a bit of a split personality.  

Bonica, 2013

The picture changes a bit when Bonica breaks down industries into smaller sectors and assesses them by the amount of money given, instead of the total number of donors. Take this graph, from a 2010 blog post. Venture capitalists, hedge funders, and investment bankers tended to fall on the moderate left. But insurance companies were solidly on the right. Corporate lawyers were on the far left, but gave relatively little. Trial lawyers were on the far left, but cut massive checks. Lobbyists, predictably, straddled the middle. They know to play both sides.

Bonica, 2010

Via Christopher Ingraham