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If the U.S. Airlines Could Vote for President…

Who will be the next president of the United States, if the airlines had their way?

Given the Republican party’s self-proclaimed pro-business positions, and the Democrats’ focus on regulation, you might expect the answer to consist of a longish list of Republican candidates, with a top Democratic contender thrown in, just in case.

However, if the airlines’ contributions to the candidates’ campaigns are any indication, you’d be wrong.

According to, a nonpartisan website that tracks “money in U.S. politics and its effect on elections and public policy,” two of the top three contribution recipients were Democrats, with Hillary Clinton receiving by far the most financial support of any candidate from either party. Here’s the list, as of February 22, 2016:

  1. Clinton, Hillary (D) – $145,246
  2. Cruz, Ted (R) – $75,868
  3. Sanders, Bernie (D) – $47,671
  4. Carson, Ben (R) – $36,947
  5. Bush, Jeb (R) – $22,478
  6. Rubio, Marco (R) – $16,753
  7. O’Malley, Martin (D) – $10,350
  8. Fiorina, Carly (R) – $9,326
  9. Huckabee, Mike (R) – $6,133
  10. Christie, Chris (R) – $4,500
  11. Trump, Donald (R) – $3,466
  12. Kasich, John (R) – $1,470

(Numbers reflect contributions from PACs and individuals giving $200 or more.)

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So, does that mean that airlines endorse the principles espoused by Democrats over those of Republicans? Hardly. More likely, the motive behind the contributions is more practical, reflecting the companies’ belief that Clinton is the best bet to win the 2016 election.

Indeed, looking beyond the race for the presidency, at the contributions by the largest airlines to the two parties overall, the bulk of the industry’s money has gone to Republicans. American Airlines, for example, gave $352,633 to Republican candidates in 2015 and 2016, versus $178,712 to Democrats. Delta gave $221,103 to Republicans, $177,031 to Democrats. Southwest gave $118,977 to Republicans, and just $34,082 to Democrats. And Airlines for America, the airline industry’s advocacy group, gave $158,640 to Republicans, $27,350 to Democrats. United was alone among the largest airlines in favoring Democrats, with contributions totaling $172,309, versus $152,351 for Republicans.

It’s no surprise that airlines, like corporations in other industries, are more interested in backing a winner than in promoting a particular political or moral cause. There’s little idealism in the corporate world, where unbridled self-interest dominates.

What is surprising in the contribution results so far is Bernie Sanders’ ranking among the top three presidential candidates, and Donald Trump’s lack of support. But the data was compiled before Super Tuesday. The numbers might look very different in the coming months, as the likely winners and losers come into sharper focus and the airlines redirect their contributions accordingly.

Reader Reality Check

While hardly surprising, I do find it somewhat unsettling that some of my travel dollars are ultimately deployed to support politicians and causes I oppose. You?

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After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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