The 2016 U.S. Presidential election is now behind us (although my Facebook feed would suggest otherwise). If we can remove the divisiveness from the election for just a moment and look at what the candidates proposed about charitable giving policy, we will see that neither of the major party candidates were focused on enacting tax policies to encourage greater generosity. In fact, according to the Tax Policy Center, while President-elect Trump and Senator Clinton proposed very different tax plans, both plans would have the impact of decreasing charitable giving in the U.S.
In and of itself, the agreement of both democrats and republicans on tax policy that would negatively impact U.S. charitable giving may be surprising to some, but it is certainly not news. Leaders of both parties have suggested such changes for a number of years. I have written previously that the U.S. government should expand, not reduce, opportunities for more Americans to act with generosity.
However, the intersection of U.S. politics and giving becomes a bit more interesting when one looks at a state-by-state comparison of giving. As the liberal-leaning, “Huffington Post,” reported in 2013, being generous is, “One Thing Red States Do Better Than Blue States.” The thrust of the article can be seen in the below map which shows the states in which individuals give to charities more generously (red) or less generously (blue) than the national average. Although the map was produced in 2004, more recent data support similar findings.
So, while some researchers and observers have twisted these findings to suggest that republicans are more generous than democrats (the above map does look familiar, right?), or claimed that this data shows that wealthy people are less generous than poorer people, or that church attending parts of the country are more generous than parts of the country that attend fewer religious services, I believe these claims to be superficial and inaccurate. Instead, I believe what more insightful analysis has suggested – that Americans of all socio-economic strata give at similar levels when they are made aware of and become connected to the need. When individuals within communities are meaningfully connected, we give in support of each other.
If we consider the many and diverse health benefits associated with giving, it would strongly suggest that our government would attempt to incentivize such behavior at the individual level. And when we layer in the findings that connected communities give in support of those in need at higher levels than dis-connected communities, it is fair to question why both major political parties are in favor of tax policies that would discourage charitable giving.
And perhaps even more worthy of questioning: With all the individual and communal benefits associated with charitable giving, why is this topic rarely lifted up as one of the top policy issues of our day? Indeed, more giving may be the only practical antidote powerful enough to bind a divided and unsympathetic nation.