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Social Contagion and Campaign Donations

Traag, V. A. (2016). Complex Contagion of Campaign Donations. PLoS ONE, 11(4).                                              dio:101371/journal.pone.0153539.

Campaign Contributions have been at the forefront of every major political election, ever. This past election brought to light the many issues around campaign contributions, specifically the ethics behind disclosing how much money flows through Super Political Action Committees (PACs) and how income inequality affects political influence. While many campaign donations don’t come from the numbered elite in this country, a larger sum of money does. “Complex Contagion of Campaign Donations” by Traag (2016), looks at 50,000 elite and finds that campaign donations are socially contagious by creating network models.

The main finding of the study confirms independent reinforcement (pg 10), suggesting that exposure to donors, especially from many donors in one’s network who all don’t know each other, increases the likelihood of donating as well. This study also found that the “viability” of a candidate also affects their amount of money they’re able to raise. Indeed, people – wealthy or not – do care about the electability of a candidate. If a candidate seems like they will not win, people will not donate to their campaign. Further, this study showed that “Independent reinforcement is especially relevant for campaign donations to assess viability.” Because of this, it’s incredibly important to diversify the communities campaigns reach out to. Diversity of supporting communities significantly affects amount of money raised by a campaign due to independent reinforcement. This study also showed that different aiding communities can predict the success of a campaign more so than the number of donors. One really cool finding was that memes found on social networks also affect campaign contributions.

This past election brought to light many of the issues of both major parties, Democrats and Republicans. Division among party lines is not uncommon. It’s also not a surprise that many close friends in a network are likely to have the same or similar political ideologies. Traag (2016) found that exposure to people who support one particular party can trigger a rise in donations to another. This proves just how much animosity between political parties and one’s network can also affect campaign donations.


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