Aerospace Employee Campaign Contributions

The aerospace industry has a reputation for being conservative. A new generation of aerospace companies have built a reputation on flouting the status quo, but is this willingness to challenge norms reflected in the politics of their employees?

WHERE’S THE DATA FROM?

The data used in these charts was gathered from the Federal Election Commission, which requires individuals who make political contributions of $200 or more to register the name of their company. The data covers contributions made to the Biden, Trump, and Sanders campaigns since January 1, 2019. It is based on the most current available data, which was last updated 6/30/2020.

ABOUT THE CHARTS

The companies are grouped into two categories: AEROSPACE & DEFENSE (Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, L3Harris, and Raytheon) and SPACEFLIGHT & LAUNCH (SpaceX, Blue Origin, Sierra Nevada Corporation, ULA, and the Virgin group*). The median age of the Aerospace & Defense parent companies is 98 years old, while the median age of the Spaceflight and Launch companies is 16 years old.

There is some overlap between these groups. For instance, the United Launch Alliance (ULA) is a partnership between Boeing and Lockheed Martin that is exclusively a space launch provider. ULA employees were counted as a separate group and their campaign contributions were not included in the totals for Lockheed Martin and Boeing employees.

Note that L3Harris was formed from a merger between L3 Technologies and the Harris Corporation in June 2019. Employees at the individual companies who contributed money to these presidential campaigns from January 1, 2019 until the merger are included in the L3Harris total. Likewise, Raytheon merged with United Technologies Corporation in April 2020. The campaign contributions from United Technologies employees are included in the Raytheon total.

*The Virgin group includes employee contributions from Virgin Orbit, Virgin Galactic, and the Spaceship Company.

AEROSPACE & DEFENSE

Of all the Aerospace & Defense companies, Boeing had the most employees contribute to political campaigns (N=792) and they contributed the most money ($441,380). Nearly half of Boeing employees’ contributions went to the Bernie campaign ($196,219). It’s worth noting that Boeing has far and away the most employees (~160,000) of the Aerospace & Defense Group. The next largest company is Lockheed Martin (~110,000 employees).

Among the aerospace/defense employees there is a remarkable consistency in which campaigns the employees contributed to if they made a campaign contribution of $200 or more. Roughly half of the employees contributed to Trump, one-third to Sanders, and one-sixth to Biden.

The median employee contribution for either Democratic candidate was higher than the median contribution to the Trump campaign at every Aerospace & Defense company. In terms of total employee contributions, however, employees contributed more to Trump than Biden at every Aerospace & Defense company.

SPACEFLIGHT & LAUNCH

SpaceX employees contributed the most money to presidential campaigns overall. In fact, SpaceX employees contributed more money ($47,761) to presidential campaigns than the other four Spaceflight and Launch companies combined ($44,402).

Blue Origin employees had the highest median political contribution to each campaign except the Biden campaign. The Virgin group’s unusually high median campaign contribution to the Biden campaign is due to the small number of contributors (2), each of whom made a relatively large contribution ($2800 and $638).

Sierra Nevada Corporation was the only Spaceflight & Launch company where the majority of employees who made campaign contributions of $200 or more didn’t contribute to the Sanders campaign. The Virgin group (Virgin Orbit, Virgin Galactic, and the Spaceship Company) is the only Spaceflight & Launch company that didn’t have any contributions to the Trump campaign.

WHAT DOES THIS TELL ME ABOUT THE COMPANY?

It tells you that a certain number of employees at the company felt strongly enough about a political candidate to give them some portion of their earnings. This doesn’t necessarily reflect the political orientation of the company or even most of its employees. FEC data only contains people who contributed $200 or more. For each of the companies below, the number of unique contributors represents less than one half of one percent (<0.005) of all the employees at the company. This is not a representative sample; it is an observational exercise.

METHOD

All data was sourced from the Federal Election Commission’s individual contributor portal. The time range was set to 1/1/2019 to the most recent available data. The relevant campaigns were selected: Donald Trump for President, Inc.; Make American Great Again Committee; Joe Biden for President; Bernie Sanders 2020. Company names and their derivatives (e.g., SpaceX, Space Exploration Technologies Corp., etc.) were selected for search. The datasets for the companies were cleaned and combined. Individual contributors were identified based on unique addresses. 

NOTE: I’ll be updating this post with each monthly data dump from the FEC. I’ll also be expanding it to include more data, such as how employees at these companies contributed to campaigns during the 2016 election. I’ll post updates on Twitter.