Duke University faculty members' donations to presidential hopefuls veered left last year, with Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards together claiming more than eight times the amount given to all Republican candidates.
A total of 40 Duke faculty, administrators, researchers and staff had contributed $41,358 to nine presidential campaigns as of Sept. 30, 2007, according to data released by the Federal Election Commission.
Of these funds, $37,508, roughly 91 percent, went to the campaigns of Obama, Edwards, Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., with the remaining $3,850 split between Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan.
The Obama campaign, which received the most contributions -- $18,300 from 20 donors -- has been particularly appealing among intellectuals, explained Dr. James Tulsky, professor of internal medicine.
"[Obama] is extremely intelligent and resonates with the typical faculty member," he said. "He's a visionary leader... somebody who really understands why politics has gone downhill." Tulsky, an active Obama supporter and fundraiser, has donated $2,300 to Obama's campaign.
North Carolina native son Edwards netted $13,108 -- five times the amount given to Clinton -- from 12 faculty members.
That Obama outperformed Edwards despite the latter's local connections could be anticipated, said Michael Munger, chair of the political science department.
"Many faculty members might not have a native North Carolina identification to begin with, so there's no reason to expect a significant Edwards advance," he said, noting that "it is a little surprising that Clinton is that far back."
Those who donated to the Edwards campaign cited ideological rather than geographical reasons for their support.
"His positions on issues of the environment, economy and health care are the most advanced of any candidate's," said Edwards contributor William Chafe, a professor of history.
Timothy Tyson, a research scholar at the Center for Documentary Studies, wrote in an e-mail that his decision to aid Edwards was motivated by the candidate's platform and broad-based, populist appeal.
"I also think that Edwards can win in places south and west of New York City where others may not do so well," he said.
But Tyson, along with several other Democratic donors at the University, said he will most likely vote for whichever candidate the party nominates.
McCain, who received $2,100-the largest contribution to a Republican candidate-fell short of Clinton by a few hundred dollars. The disparity between Republican and Democratic faculty contributions is not surprising given the predominantly liberal academic climate, Munger said.
He cautioned, however, against drawing conclusions from the relatively small sample of donors about the faculty as a whole,
"I suspect most of the faculty is generally left-leaning," Obama contributor Chris Dwyer, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, wrote in an e-mail. "I do know this causes some friction with conservative students."
Munger added that the largely undecided primary season and the recent appearance of Obama on the national stage have generated more excitement than in past years.
North Carolina's late presidential primary-to be held May 6-may have discouraged potential donors, as the state is unlikely to have a significant impact on party nominations, Tulsky said, adding, "I'd like to see a little more political activity among faculty."
None of the four Duke faculty who donated to campaigns of Republican candidates culd be reached for comment.
© 2008 The Chronicle via U-WIRE