Democratic House Speaker Tip O'Neill famously claimed that "all politics is local." True, but it's increasingly global as well -- especially for the roughly 5.7 million U.S. citizens living outside the nation's borders. Whatever the reason for their travels, Americans abroad can and do participate in politics and give to campaigns.
The Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) estimates that 2.6 million of the American citizens living overseas are eligible to vote. In 2014, only 93,000 of those, or 4 percent, voted. 2016 numbers aren't yet available. (This estimate does not include military members or their families, a small number of whom made campaign contributions included in the figures below.)
While we can't know how they voted, we do know this: Overseas citizens made almost $4.6 million in donations to federal candidates, party committees and outside spending groups like super PACs in 2016, putting them as a group more or less on par with a small state such as Alaska.
The top home-away-from-home for donors living overseas is easily London, which accounted for $1.3 million in donations in 2016. Including the rest of the United Kingdom brings that figure over $1.6 million, by far the largest total from any one country even though more than twice as many Americans live in Canada as the U.K. Despite London's importance to the right-leaning financial sector, 77.7% of partisan donations from the city went to Democrats. Coincidentally, that's not far from the ratio of Democratic to Republican attendees (308 to 111) at a bipartisan London campaign event described by CBS in October. London is also home to the cycle's largest overseas donors, Peter L. and Maria Kellner, a retired couple that apparently splits time between Massachusetts and England while giving generously to Democrats.
The next four cities on the list are the Asian metropolises of Hong Kong, Singapore, Shanghai, and Tokyo, all of which, except Shanghai, rank among the 10 foreign cities with the largest voting-age American populations, according to FVAP. Toronto, in seventh place, is the top Canadian city on the list; Dubai, in 19th, is the biggest donor location outside of Canada, Europe and East Asia. The two cities with the largest populations of overseas Americans, Vancouver and Tel Aviv, accounted for just $9,418 and $5,712 in donations respectively.
(Note: Our analysis is of contributors of more than $200; no donor detail, including address, is provided for smaller contributors.)
London ex-pats are typical in leaning Democratic. Americans abroad gave more than $2.6 million to Democratic causes in 2016 and nearly $1.4 million to their GOP counterparts. That ratio -- 65.7 percent of partisan contributions going to Democrats -- would make overseas donors the 12th most Democratic state, just ahead of New Mexico and New York. That's an increase in left-leaning partisanship: In 2012, 58.2 percent of those contributions went to Dems.
Another interesting note about 2012: Donors living abroad gave far more in that election cycle -- $7.3 million, or about 160 percent more than they gave this time around. London accounted for more than $2.2 million. The donors were somewhat more evenhanded in 2012, as well, though Democrats still got the lion's share -- 58.2 percent -- of the money.
The cities that are the biggest exceptions to the pro-Democratic tilt are all in Asia: Hong Kong (71.5 percent to Republicans), Singapore (65.6 percent), and Shanghai (92.9 percent). Hong Kong and Shanghai's numbers are heavily skewed by two major donors to the super PAC Right to Rise, which backed Jeb Bush's presidential candidacy. (OpenSecrets Blog reported on Right to Rise's overseas support last year.)
The leftward lean of overseas American donors might have to do with the fact that, according to FVAP, 46 percent have a graduate or professional degree. The Census Bureau tells us that only 12 percent of all Americans over age 25 have an advanced degree; this group shifted well to the left in 2016, supporting Hillary Clinton by a 21 percentage point margin after giving Barack Obama a 13-point victory in 2012. Alternately, perhaps liberals are more likely to enjoy life abroad, or work in industries that require lots of travel.