Barack Obama appears to be winning the faculty lounge straw poll -- his presidential campaign is cultivating academics and pacing the field in collecting cash from them.
Obama, whose website features an “Academics for Obama
” page, raised nearly $1.5 million in the first half of the year from people who work for colleges and universities, according to an analysis of campaign finance data
by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. And that’s 55 percent more than the $939,000 brought in by the next biggest professor’s pet, fellow Democratic senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York.
The next two biggest recipients were Republicans Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, ($48,000) and Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York ($366,000).
Overall, of the more than $7 million in federal campaign contributions from academia identified in the center’s analysis of Federal Election Commission data, 66 percent went to Democratic candidates and committees. That’s roughly the same percentage partisan split in academic contributions as in 2006 and 2004.
But in a race in which Democrats are clamoring over one another to claim the populist mantle, Obama’s support from academia could cut both ways. It might help him come across as the thinking person’s pick for the Democratic nomination. Or, the freshman senator from Illinois could become susceptible to the negative stereotypes associated with the field: out of touch, ivory tower elitism. Think of the Hollywood effect.
Obama was a lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School from 1993 to 2004.
And he seems to have “a special appeal among academics, particularly those at four-year institutions,” said University of Virginia political science professor Larry Sabato.
“Even at places like UVA, which are more conservative than most, it’s overwhelmingly Obama,” said Sabato, asserting academics see Obama’s candidacy as one of change and a test of the nation’s tolerance. “You have some feminists who are supporting Hillary Clinton, but that is really the only demographic supporting her, which is quite surprising.”
Democrats lately have not gone out of their way to cultivate academia, he said. That’s partly because academics generally don’t earn as much as sought-after donor groups (though there are certainly exceptions), and because they’re considered a reliably Democratic voting block.
“Academics don’t have that much to give other than their votes collectively,” said Sabato. “And there is literally no way they will ever cross the line and vote Republican, therefore why should Democrats spend a minute on them?”
The Academics for Obama page lists a campaign aide as the contact for a volunteer phone bank event
at Harvard Law School on Sunday evening.
It’s part of the campaign’s effort to use online tools and field organizing to reach out to groups that haven’t traditionally been targeted, said Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki.
“Our focus is providing people with tools they can use to take organizing into their own hands and this group of academics is an excellent example of that,” she said.
Blake Zeff, a spokesman for Clinton’s campaign, was not immediately aware of particular efforts to court academics. “We’re proud of the overwhelming support from Americans of all walks of life and all parts of the country who are ready for change,” he said.
Academics may not be lobbyists, but they’re hardly strangers to political giving.
Through the first six months of the year, education ranked as the 14th largest industry in terms of political contributions, ahead of oil and gas and pharmaceuticals, according to the center.
The biggest givers were from Harvard University, which produced $266,000 in donations (81 percent to Democrats) and from the University of California, which gave $248,000 (90 percent to Democrats).
Those schools’ employees were the two biggest sources of contributions to Democrat John F. Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign: $623,000 came from Cal, $355,000 from Harvard.