Who owns compassion?

Image credit: Steven Depolo via Flikr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/stevendepolo/

Do North Carolina liberals just care more?

Image credit: Steven Depolo via Flikr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/stevendepolo/

Image credit: Steven Depolo via Flikr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/stevendepolo/

CHARLOTTE (May 18, 2015) – A few days ago Taylor Batten, editorial page editor of the Charlotte Observer, wrote a paean to himself about how caring and compassionate liberals are. Here is a taste:

“We believe that everyone is created equal.

We believe that children should not bear responsibility for the sins of their parents.

We believe that prevention is a heck of a lot cheaper than a cure.

We believe people should not be treated as lesser citizens, with fewer rights, because of whom they love.”

Batten leaves no doubt that his readers are to infer that since liberals do care about the less fortunate, obviously conservatives do not care. (He tries to obfuscate this implication by saying that he’s not “liberal,” he just has just taken all these policy positions because he cares, and if you care, those are the positions you take, and if that is considered “liberal,” then so be it. See? Not liberal. Just caring and compassionate.)

We decided to do a little research and see if his theory holds up.

Measuring caring and compassion is an inexact science, to be sure. But one way to quantify an approximation of compassion is to measure who gives what to charity.

If liberals really cared about “other folks” and conservatives really did not, then giving in liberal areas in the state should swamp giving in the conservative areas.

The facts, however, are not kind to this argument. We used data from The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s interactive site for the giving data, and 2012 presidential election results for the political leanings data.

Let’s consider a county pair in each of the three regions of the state:


Buncombe Henderson
Percent vote for Obama 55.5 35.6
Giving ratio 3.9 4.31

So folks in conservative-leaning Henderson County gave about 10 percent more to charity than folks in liberal-leaning Buncombe.

For the Piedmont, we picked Orange and Randolph. Here the spread between politics might be the widest in the state. So according to Batten’s theory, denizens of true-blue Orange should out-give the residents of dark-red Randolph by a hefty margin, right?

Orange Randolph
Percent vote for Obama 70.4 24.4
Giving ratio 2.86 4.05

Oops! Looks like folks in Randolph gave 40 percent more to charity than their Ph.D. neighbors.

You get the picture, but we’ll do one more so we don’t leave out our friends from the Coastal Plain:

Pitt Beaufort
Percent vote for Obama 53 40.1
Giving ratio 3.9 4.4

These results are similar to what we saw above for our mountain counties.

So are we just cherry-picking the counties to make conservatives look good? A little, but it does not matter for the sake of this argument.

For instance, you could pick dark-blue Hoke County (Obama +19) and point out that they gave 38 percent more on average than Martian-red Moore (Romney +28) next door.

Why doesn’t that matter? Because we are not trying to prove that conservatives are more compassionate than liberals – just that liberals are not necessarily more compassionate than conservatives, which was the thrust of Batten’s self-congratulatory editorial.

It would be refreshing if liberals would admit that people can sincerely want to better the lives of those around them and yet differ on the means to accomplish that goal.

We won’t hold our breath.