The AP headline:
Military donations seen favoring Obama
Report finds reversal of trend

ABC News headline:

Obama, Paul net most military workers’ campaign donations

Pretty impressive story, right?

Except it isn’t.

There are 1,400,000 plus people in the military.

The ABC story notes:

The center tallied money from donors who list the Air Force, Army, Marines, Navy and National Guard as an employer. Overall, these donations are minuscule: Obama got 44 contributions worth about $27,000 and Paul 23 for about $19,300. Republican John McCain, an Iraq war supporter and Vietnam prisoner of war, was third with about $18,500 from 32 donors.

Um…you mean the “story” is about 100 donors out of 1.4 million members of the military?

Or maybe not the military: note that the criteria is from “donors who list the (military) as an employer”.

There are a lot of civilians working as secretaries, nurses, doctors, etc. who would theoretically be “employed” by the military, yet not be members of the military: They are in civil service positions.

For some reason, the AP story gives completely different numbers:

The report tracked donations of $200 or more. It found that 859 members of the military donated a total of $335,536 to Mr. Obama. Mr. McCain received $280,513 from 558 military donors.

Among soldiers serving overseas at the time of their donations, 134 gave a total of $60,642 to Mr. Obama while 26 gave a total of $10,665 to Mr. McCain. That was less than the amount received by Republican Ron Paul, who collected $45,512 from 99 soldiers serving abroad, the report said.

So we are talking about less than 2000 donations: a much larger number in comparison to the ABC story, but if you are talking about 1.4 million military members, it is still too tiny a sample to be able to draw conclusions.

Again, it is not clear if these are “members of the military” or those who list the military as their employer, including civilians? Using the title “soldiers” in the news story sounds impressive, but is it accurate? Does the group mean there were no donations from Sailors or Marines (who are not “soldiers”?) And what about the Coast Guard?

Yes, I’m splitting hairs, but a reporter who uses such terms carelessly suggests a basic lack of knowledge of the military.

The original headline of the press release from the “Center for Responsible Politics” however is even more partisan:
Troops Deployed Abroad Give 6:1 to Obama

Really impressive.
But they have a third set of statistics:

Contributions from U.S. Troops Deployed Abroad Recipient
Totalmoney/ Number of donors

Obama, Barack $60,642 / 134
Paul, Ron $45,512 / 99
McCain, John $10,665 / 26
Huckabee, Mike $7,950 / 10
Thompson, Fred $6,350 / 7
Romney, Mitt $5,550 / 10
Clinton, Hillary $3,240 / 6

Again, tiny numbers, so their headline is misleading to say the least.

What is impressive in the numbers is that the “average” donation is $500. That’s a lot of money to normal people….suggesting the donations were from activists, not ordinary folks.

Why only these larger donations?

Apparently only donations over $200 are listed on the FEC database….which means smaller donations were not included in the database.

In summary:

Statistically, the data base is limited to large donors who would tend to be political activists, the data does not distinguish civilians working for the military versus active military members, and the numbers involved are so tiny that they make any claim meaningless.

My question is why the press bothered to write it up as if it meant something.

Press bias, or mathematical ignorance on the part of the press?


Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. Her website is MakaipaBlog.

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