Political opinion polling attempts to take the pulse of very large populations by randomly sampling small numbers of their members and extrapolating the results to the whole. While it is a valuable approach, opinion polling has well-known weaknesses, including its built-in assumptions that respondents will truthfully answer sometimes delicate questions posed by complete strangers, and that the sampling methods employed yield truly random (and thus statistically valid) samples.
An alternative, but and less common, type of electoral snapshot suffers from neither of these weaknesses. We call it the Wallet Poll: a deep demographic analysis of all individual donors to competing campaigns – which yields a complete portrait of folks who have put their money where their mouths are, doesn’t rely on truthful answers, and characterizes the entire population rather that a sample.
The data needed to assemble a ‘wallet poll’ is freely available, courtesy of the reports which campaign committees must, by law, file with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) [see Footnotes 1 and 2]. And in North Carolina most such donors’ demographic information (including race, age, gender, party affiliation, and address) is also publicly available, thanks to the state’s best-in-the-nation ‘open data’ policy regarding voter registration records. By cross-indexing donors’ identifying information in FEC reports with their voter registration records, we can with high confidence compare and contrast two candidates’ donor bases – their most ardent supporters.
Here, then, is our Wallet Poll of North Carolina presidential campaign donors for August, 2016. The differences it reveals between North Carolina’s Trump and Clinton donors could hardly be more striking.
When a scientist says something, his colleagues must ask themselves only whether it is true. When a politician says something, his colleagues must first of all ask, ‘Why does he say that?’
Leo Szilard (discoverer of the nuclear chain reaction)
Science has not been kind to the plans of North Carolina’s political establishment lately. In response, those politicians have increasingly prodded the state’s internationally respected scientists to start producing only the answers they want to hear – particularly regarding environmental problems whose solutions might impact the bottom lines of their major corporate campaign donors.
From the legislature’s 2012 law barring the state from taking sea level rise projections into account when setting coastal land use policies, to the McCrory administration’s recent strong-armed retraction of ‘Do Not Drink’ advisories issued to owners of coal ash-polluted water wells by the state’s chief toxicologist, the GOP politicians who have controlled the state since 2011 are increasingly elbowing their way into North Carolina’s science labs to deflect researchers away from dangerous thinking that might prove politically awkward.
But managing the thinking of scientists is a notoriously frustrating effort, often likened to the impossible challenge of herding squirrels. Life would be easier for the state’s political leaders if the scientific workforce could simply be stacked with ideologues who share a personal commitment to toeing the party line.
Our phones have been ringing since the publication of our exposé of Wake County North Carolina’s hidden public health crisis – toxic levels of uranium in 10% of private water wells across much of the county (and, quite possibly, in neighboring Piedmont-area counties as well).
Concerned homeowners are taking note, even as public health agencies such as the state’s Dept. of Health and Human Services (DHHS), and county Health Departments, maintain a stony public silence. And with too few news organizations picking up the story (the only exception so far being Indy Week), those worried homeowners and renters are telling us they don’t know who to turn to for answers, or what to do next.
Here’s what we recommend.