Harvard Crimson Data Reporting Projects Focus on Faculty Political Donations, Student-Athlete Hometowns

The Harvard Crimson at Harvard University recently unveiled a pair of fascinating features built atop data analysis — breaking down political campaign contributions made by Harvard faculty and pinpointing what parts of the country the school’s student-athletes live.

The findings of the first: “Eighty-four percent of campaign contributions made by a group of 614 Harvard faculty, instructors and researchers between 2011 and the third quarter of 2014 went to federal Democratic campaigns and political action committees.”

The findings of the second: “For all the differences between the recruitment of athletes and regular students at Harvard, there is one overriding similarity: a target geography. For athletes and non-athletes alike, the Northeast is Harvard College‚Äôs most fertile recruiting ground.”

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In the quick Q&A below, Crimson managing editor Madeline Conway explains a bit about the origins of both projects and how each was carried out.

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Madeline Conway, 20, is a junior history major at Harvard University. A native of Arlington Heights, Ill., she serves as managing editor of The Harvard Crimson.

What compelled the Crimson to complete the political contributions data analysis?

The Crimson started a data analysis team this year, led by a group of four staff members, with the hope of institutionalizing the use of data, when appropriate, into our reporting. In particular with regards to the political contributions project, one of our reporters, Alex Patel, pitched the project late last fall, given the midterm elections in November.

I think it’s a fascinating way to look at an issue that is already broadly discussed qualitatively — the ideological bent of academia — through the use of something quantifiable.

How did the team carry everything out from an info gathering and data journalism perspective?

A team of three staff members with experience in statistics and computer science — Alex Patel, David Freed and Idrees Kahloon — analyzed political contributions filings that are made public by the Federal Elections Commission. We looked at the filings between 2011 and September 2014, leading up to the most recent midterm elections. After that data had been analyzed, two of our reporters who covered Harvard faculty — Meg Bernhard and Karl Aspelund — then spoke with various administrators, faculty and outside experts for their reactions to the data, and they went on to write up the story that we published.

What was the most surprising or potentially newsworthy info you came across?

Although, as we note in the story, most faculty we interviewed were not too surprised that Harvard’s faculty leans Democratic, I think the breakdown school-to-school within the university, and just how far Democratic they lean, is fascinating. While 84 percent of the donations from the Harvard faculty, researchers and instructors that we included in our analysis on the whole went to Democratic campaigns and causes, individual schools leaned even further that direction. Harvard Law School contributions that we included in our data set, for example, were about 98 percent Democratic. I also found the breakdown of the university’s top donors — one of whom is the dean of Harvard Law School — really interesting.

Tell me more about the athlete hometown data project.

The athlete hometown project was engineered by David Freed, who is one of the leaders of our data team and a sports writer who covers Harvard basketball. Based on the varsity rosters and athlete hometown information that Harvard’s athletic department lists on its website, David broke down the geographic origins of Harvard athletes team to team going back six years. The data tell a really interesting story about athletic recruiting, which David visualized with the interactive map that’s featured at the top of the story and expounded upon through follow-up reporting and interviews with coaches.

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