Chapter 11: Hello groupby

To take the next step towards ranking the top contributors, we’ll need to learn a new trick. It’s called groupby.

It’s a pandas method that allows you to group a DataFrame by a column and then calculate a sum, or any other statistic, for each unique value. This is necessary when you want to rack up statistics on a long list of values, or about a combination of fields.

Grouping by one field

We’ve encountered a lot of different committees as we’ve explored the data. A natural question follows: Which ones have raised the most money?

If you scroll back up and look carefully as the info command we ran after merging out data, you will noticed it includes a column named committee_name_x and commitee_name_y.

That is because the field was present on both our committee list and our contributions list prior to joining them together. Rather than drop one of them, pandas is trained to keep them both and to append suffixes to the end.

That’s the field we want to group with here. Since the two columns are identical, it doesn’t matter which one we pick. Let’s go with x.


Again our data has come back as an ugly Series. To reformat it as a pretty DataFrame use the reset_index method again.


Sorting the biggest totals to the top is as easy as appending the sort_values trick we already know to the end. And voila there’s our answer.

merged.groupby("committee_name_x").amount.sum().reset_index().sort_values("amount", ascending=False)

Grouping by multiple fields

Finding the top contributors is almost as easy, but since the first and last names are spread between two fields we’ll need to submit them to groupby as a list. Copy the last line above, and replace “committee_name_x” with a list like the one here:

merged.groupby(["contributor_firstname", "contributor_lastname"]).amount.sum().reset_index().sort_values("amount", ascending=False)


You should be noticing that several of the top contributors appear to be the same person with their name entered in slightly different ways. This is another important lesson of campaign contributions data. Virtually none of the data is standardized by the campaigns or the government. The onus is on the analyst to show caution and responsibly combine records where the name fields refer to the same person.

To find out if each contributor supported or opposed the measure, you simple add that field to our groupby method.

merged.groupby(["contributor_firstname", "contributor_lastname", "committee_position"]).amount.sum().reset_index().sort_values("amount", ascending=False)

You’ve done it. Our brief interview is complete and you’ve answered the big question that started our inquiry. If you’re interested in continuing the interview, see if you can answer a few more questions on your own. Here are some ideas:

  • What percentage of donations came from people who live outside of California?
  • What are the top employers of donors who gave for and against the measure?
  • Which committees had the fewest donors?