Women donate less politically and risk being ignored by elected officials
Candidates ignore female voters at their peril: Women dominated men since 1980. Census data shows that almost 10 million more women than men voted in the 2020 elections.
But when it comes to another form of political participation – giving money to candidates – it is the men who take the lead. We found that men donated more money than women to candidates in statewide elections for executive positions such as attorney general and secretary of state, between 2001 and 2020.
We found that men overall contribute more financially to statewide races, creating a large gender gap in political voice. This disparity exists in primary and general elections, in both political parties, and is seen in the most recent election cycle of 2017 to 2021.
Political contributions do not guarantee victory or political influence. However, helping candidates win through campaign contributions is one way to influence their policies once they are in office. Indeed, some political sciences to research finds that elected officials are more responsive to their donors than to other Americans.
So while candidates may court women’s votes during the campaign trail, they may be less interested in women’s priorities once elected.
State officials attract less public attention than the President and members of Congress, but we studied these races because the work of these officials has profound effects on people’s lives.
secretaries of statefor example, administering state election laws and elections, an increasingly publicized and controversial role. State Attorneys General make sure state laws are enforced. And they often work together to collectively challenge Obamacare federal policies at immigration. A state’s elections have consequences both inside and outside its borders.
Our study, carried out in collaboration with OpenSecrets, a nonpartisan research organization that tracks money in politics, found that from 2001 to 2020, women donors made just 23% of general election contributions in statewide races for positions such as Attorney General and Secretary of State. Men gave 77%.
These results echo our accompanying report on gubernatorial elections. Other researchers who estimate both race and gender of donors find that women of color make up the smallest percentage of donors.
The gender gap is not symmetrical between the two main political parties. Women make up a higher percentage of contributors to Democrats than Republicans in statewide races for positions such as attorney general and secretary of state, as is the case in of the congress and of the governor races.
In some of the major contests we looked at, women are on par with men as the proportion of contributors to Democrats. But overall, women make up less than half of donors and provide less than half of the funds raised by Democratic candidates statewide.
Implications for Candidates
We find that winners generally collect more money than their opponents, confirming that money matters.
The under-representation of donors may contribute to the under-representation of women among statewide elected. Because women disproportionately donate to executive candidates statewide, the low percentage of women donors disproportionately harms female candidates: more female donors mean more resources for female candidates.
Resources are especially scarce for candidates who are women of color. There is a shortage of women of color in statewide leadership positions, despite the election of Vice President Kamala Harris and record numbers of women of color serving in Congress and state legislatures. No black or Native American woman has ever won the governorship of any state. Our research finds that women of color raise less than white applicants and are significantly less likely to seek statewide office.
The current number of female governors – eight – is one less than the all-time high, first performed in 2004. With no major party women among the gubernatorial candidates in the two states with the 2021 elections, no women will be elected governor this year.
Our two reports show that women running for state executive office are less likely to fund their own campaigns and that women raise more money than men through small contributions. These differences likely mean that fundraising is more difficult for statewide executive candidates who are women.
According to several statewide candidates and political practitioners we surveyed, men are more likely than women to have personal relationships with wealthy donors and to have access to networks of contributors; and donors and other political gatekeepers may mistakenly believe that women — especially women of color — will not be successful candidates, making fundraising more difficult for them.
To research shows that women have filled many longstanding gaps in political participation, such as volunteering in campaigns and contact with public officials. Improved educational and labor opportunities for women expanded women’s personal resources in terms of income and civic skills, thus facilitating women’s political donations. And women’s organizations and networks such as Emily’s List, Show CAP and Higher heights mobilized women to give regularly. Recent electionsincluding those of 2018saw an increase of donors
With the persistence of income inequalities due to gender and race, and the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the future of women’s donation is unclear. But as the election 2022 unfolds, observers can observe if the women are giving — not just if the women are running.
Kira SanbonmatsuProfessor of Political Science and Senior Fellow, Center for American Women and Politics, Eagleton Institute of Politics, Rutgers University and Claire Gotheauresearch associate at the Center for American Women and Politics, Rutgers University
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