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Thursday, May 28, 2009
By Steven L. Taylor

A few days ago I noted a story (I forget where, so no link) that there were a far larger number of Republican donors in the list of Chrysler dealerships than there were Democratic donors. The author of the story in question saw this as some sort of possible conspiracy. My first thought was: what were the comparable stats for the dealerships that
weren’t closed, there was no way of knowing if the closed dealership pool was somehow special if we didn’t know the broader pool of dealers. If, for example, Chrysler dealerships were disproportionately owned by Republicans who gave money to Republicans, then it would follow logically that the closed dealerships would reflect that fact. Indeed, given the demographic of those who own car dealerships, it struck me as rather likely that, in fact, they were disproportionately Republican in partisan orientation. However, I didn’t have the time or the inclination to do the research myself.

Of course since everyone loves a good conspiracy, the story hasn’t died. To wit, Mark Tapscott writes in the Washington Examiner: Furor grows over partisan car dealer closings

Evidence appears to be mounting that the Obama administration has systematically targeted for closing Chrysler dealers who contributed to Repubicans. What started earlier this week as mainly a rumbling on the Right side of the Blogosphere has gathered some steam today with revelations that among the dealers being shut down are a GOP congressman and closing of competitors to a dealership chain partly owned by former Clinton White House chief of staff Mack McLarty.

The basic issue raised here is this: How do we account for the fact millions of dollars were contributed to GOP candidates by Chrysler who are being closed by the government, but only one has been found so far that is being closed that contributed to the Obama campaign in 2008?

Well, the basic answer to question asked would be to do what I suggest above: actually research the issue of the broader pool of dealership owners and see if there really is a seriously disproportionate number of Republican donors in the dealership closure pool. And, I would hasten to add, one would still have to figure out other factors, such as regionality (which often correlates to partisan affiliation) and whatever other variables might have gone into the selection of the dealerships in question.

Thankfully, Nate Silver has done at least some of the relevant research, so I don’t have to:News Flash: Car Dealers are Republicans (It’s Called a Control Group, People). Nate looks at contributions based on profession and finds the following:

Overall, 88 percent of the contributions from car dealers went to Republican candidates and just 12 percent to Democratic candidates. By comparison, the list of dealers on Doug Ross’s list (which I haven’t vetted, but I assume is fine) gave 92 percent of their money to Republicans — not really a significant difference.

In other words, there is almost a 9 to 1 chance that a given car dealer is going to be a Republican. As such, the fact that the closed Chrysler dealers are overwhelmingly Republican should be absolutely no surprise whatsoever.

In fact, it tracks with the numbers that are being used (by Ross in Nate’s post) and others are proof of a conspiracy. For example, World Net Daily:

But WND reviewed the list of 789 closing franchises and databases of political donors and found that of dealership majority owners making contributions in the November 2008 election, less than 10 percent gifted to Democrats while 90 percent gave substantial sums to Republican candidates.

The story has the subtitle “Dealers who give to Republicans much more likely to be shuttered” which is a statistics-illiterate statement, as simply having more of X than Y on a list does not automatically mean that X had a higher chance of being on the list than did Y. The probability of X to be on the list is directly related to the number of Xs in the pool from which the list is being selected. Yes, a 90-10 ratio would be odd if the original pool was 50-50. However, if the original pool is, as Nate’s numbers suggest, 90-10 to begin with, then a 90-10 sample of that pool makes perfect sense.

Indeed, to go along with something I said above, Nate rightly notes:

It shouldn’t be any surprise, by the way, that car dealers tend to vote — and donate — Republican. They are usually male, they are usually older (you don’t own an auto dealership in your 20s), and they have obvious reasons to be pro-business, pro-tax cut, anti-green energy and anti-labor. Car dealerships need quite a bit of space and will tend to be located in suburban or rural areas. I can’t think of too many other occupations that are more natural fits for the Republican Party.


Of course I expect that such evidence will not dissuade those who are hellbent on finding a conspiracy here.

Filed under: Uncategorized |Click here to leave a comment | View Comments |
  • Dave
    "Since when did politicians have a reputation for honesty either? We can’t even get an official long-for birth certificate for our president which shows place of birth, hospital, attending physician, etc. It’s on file in Hawaii, supposedly. Why would anyone want to keep it hidden? Unless … well, you get my drift."

    Did you ever look at the story on the birth certificate at Snopes? It's been pretty well debunked. And let's see a copy of YOUR long form, while we're at it!
  • Oh, I get your drift, there is little doubt about that...
  • Mondo Fuego™
    Since when did politicians have a reputation for honesty either? We can't even get an official long-for birth certificate for our president which shows place of birth, hospital, attending physician, etc. It's on file in Hawaii, supposedly. Why would anyone want to keep it hidden? Unless ... well, you get my drift.
  • Dave,

    Indeed, all arguments are discounted at a heavy rate in my mind once people start referring to "the One" and the like.
  • Dave
    I'm under the impression that any story beginning with "Comrade Obama" or "Lord Obama" should get the same credibility as one beginning with "King George," unless referring to English royalty.

    All this was taken by a remark from a lawyer for the "bad" dealers.

    Since when did car dealers (or lawyers) have a reputation for honesty?

    But then, given the way things work in the blogosphere, facts don't matter. Remember, Al Gore claims to have invented the Internet... unless you actually do five seconds of research.
  • Mondo Fuego™
    I am chuckling too. It's been a long time since we have had a really good conspiracy theory. This automobile dealership witch hunt is pathetic when you think about it. The 75% of the Chrysler dealers who are "chosen by the annointed one" to remain open will not have an easy life, and many of them are likely to fail anyway over the next 12 months because of reluctant buyers who are worried about jobs/questionable car warranties/more debt/etc., and tight credit on both ends (dealer floorplanning and consumer).
  • Two things:

    1. Based on your comments, I don't think you actually looked at Silver's post, nor do you get the basic math issue here. (Or, for that matter, the issue of federal contributions and the databases in question).

    2. I did like your conclusion, as it gave me a chuckle.
  • Mondo Fuego™
    You don't have a clue what you're talking about. Your attempt to debunk the conspiracy with incomplete and unsupported data is as bad as the conspiracy itself.

    It would be a monumental task to amass a complete database of political contributions made by owners of automobile dealerships, broken down by type of dealership (Chrysler, Ford, BMW, etc.) from which one could support or refute a conspiracy theory ... in fact, it would be impossible.

    First of all, the Federal Election Commission and the various State Election/Ethics Commissions have varying regulations on contribution limits, reporting requirements and thresholds. At the federal level, corporations cannot make contributions to federal political committees/candidates, and individuals who make contributions of $200 or less in the aggregate per year per recipient committee/candidate are not required to disclose their occupation and employer, so an owner/dealer could give $200 to every Republican Presidential, Senate and House candidate every year, which is a whopping amount of money, without appearing on the dealership owner radar. Furthermore, if the employer is disclosed on political contributions in excess of $200 per year per political committee, there's no assurance that the name of the employer indicates the exact type of car being sold.

    Each of the 50 states have different rules and limits, and many do not require disclosure of occupation and/or employer. Furthermore, the disclosure of occupation and employer does not necessarily indicate ownership versus other positions like General Manager, which might or might not be a part owner.

    Many states also permit corporate contributions, and the legal names of a lot of car dealerships do not necessarily indicate or imply the industry in which they participate. For example, Sonic is the name of the largest automobile dealership owner in the US, specializing in high-end dealerships like Mercedes, BMW, Jaguar and Cadillac. A different Sonic is an owner/operator of a chain of fast food drive-ins. If an owning dealer of an incorporated dealership in New Jersey names his "holding" corporation Smith Enterprises with a Pennsylvania mailing address and makes a $100,000 corporate contribution to a gubernatorial candidate in Alabama or California (both of which which are embarassingly legal), there's no way to trace the contributions to the automotive dealer industry.

    Just like many other unemployed bloggers, it would appear that you just like to hear yourself blab.

    blah! Blah!! BLAH!!! blah! Blah!! Blah!! BLAH!!!

    Come and visit us.
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