How Wealthy Donors Drive Aggressive Foreign Policy
As the influence of high-dollar donors grows, so too will our bellicosity.
By Sean McElwee, Brian Schaffner and Jesse Rhodes
The enthusiasm of the most wealthy and influential private actors in American politics provides a durable reservoir of support for the assertion of American power abroad….
“elite donors” and wealthy Americans are more supportive of American military spending than are ordinary Americans. When requested to indicate whether they preferred to balance the federal budget primarily through cuts to defense spending, domestic spending cuts, or tax increases, 42 percent of American adults indicated that they preferred defense cuts. But only 25 percent of elite donors, and 36 percent of wealthy Americans, preferred that route….
“Elite donors” and the wealthy are noticeably more likely to support a military intervention to prevent genocide (50 percent and 51 percent, respectively) compared to the general public (40 percent). And elite donors and wealthy Americans are also much more likely to express support for military interventions to destroy terrorist training camps. Sixty-four percent of American adults supported this hypothetical; but 80 percent of “elite donors” and 76 percent of wealthy Americans did….
we found that elite donors and wealthy Americans are more likely to express support for military interventions to ensure the American oil supply. While just 25 percent of American adults expressed support for such interventions, 35 percent of elite donors did, and nearly half (48 percent) of Republican elite donors did….
Recent scholarship on representation in politics strongly suggests that large donors and wealthy Americans exercise disproportionate influence on politicians, and that this bias is most notable on matters of national security and foreign policy. One reason that this might occur is that Americans feel less confident in judging debates over foreign interventions and often defer to elites on such matters, especially during conflicts….
Political scientists Matt Grossmann and William Isaac also found the wealthy are more likely to favor of “international intervention, international institutions, foreign aid, and trade agreement, and policy prefers their preferences.” They also assert the place where the wealthy have the most disproportionate impact is on foreign policy: “affluent support for foreign policy proposals without average support leads to a very high adoption rate (69 percent) compared to foreign policy proposals with only average citizen support (38 percent).”