Campaign Finance, Gender Differences in

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Editors: Dianne G. Bystrom and Barbara Burrell
Date: 2019
Document Type: Topic overview
Pages: 2
Content Level: (Level 5)

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Campaign Finance, Gender Differences in

Fund-raising is a crucial element of modern campaigns. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, $6.4 billion was spent during the 2016 campaign cycle—$2.4 billion on the presidential race and $4 billion on congressional races (2018). This was actually less than the $6.6 billion spent during the 2012 election cycle—$2.8 billion in the presidential race and $3.8 in congressional races. During the 2012 congressional campaign, the average cost of winning a U.S. House seat was $1.6 million while the cost for winning a U.S. Senate seat was more than $10 million ( Dittmar 2014 ). These figures represent a stark increase in the necessity for funds necessary to win elections. And although several studies have indicated that gender is not a significant variable regarding campaign finance, there are gender differences in terms of political access and use of funds. There are also gender differences among donors in terms of campaign donations.

Information from contemporary campaigns reveals a number of gender-based differences when it comes to fund-raising. When women decide to run for office, an early requirement they must demonstrate is the ability to raise money. This is difficult to do, especially if they are facing an incumbent and that incumbent is male. Studies indicate that female Democrats rely most heavily on the contributions of women donors and have done so for more than two decades. These donations from women tend to be smaller than contributions from men, adding an extra burden to female candidates to find more donors to make up for the difference in size of contributions received.

Studies indicate that the current climate of campaign finance forces female candidates to accept public financing for political races when available more so than their male counterparts. Scholars agree that incumbency is one of the key indicators of success in terms of campaign fund-raising. And since more men currently hold elective office, more men are incumbents and thus have a gender-based Page 64  |  Top of Articleadvantage, requiring women to turn to public funding. This reliance on public financing can be problematic for women since they must rely on party leaders to distribute the funds to priority races, often disadvantaging women candidates. Scholars are conflicted on whether the presence of public financing encourages women to run, though the ability to obtain a base of financial support through public financing has encouraged women in Connecticut and Arizona to seek state-level offices.

There are a few things to note that distinguish women from men in their roles as political donors. Scholars have demonstrated that roughly 25 to 35 percent of all political contributions come from women and that when men and women make donations, men donate in larger amounts (over $200). Men also are more likely than women to be so-called megadonors, donating more than $95,000 during elections. The gender disparity in megadonating is seen most clearly in data gathered by the Center for Responsive Politics in 2013 that indicated that “of the top 100 contributors in 2012, 11 were women; that’s down from the 21 who fell into that elite group of donors in 1990” ( Bryner and Weber 2013 , 1).

When women donate to political campaigns, they tend to donate to Democrats and support nonprofit political causes like education and religious organizations, while men tend to donate more to Republicans and private industries, the trades of which include gambling, defense, and energy. Women also tend to donate less than men to political action committees (PACs) but more to presidential candidates (though in smaller dollar amounts) than men. Changes to campaign finance laws that have uncapped limits that can be donated to PACs have resulted in adaptation by women politicians and women’s organizations so that they are able to be competitive. Data gathered by the National Council for Research on Women revealed that since campaign finance changes were made in 2010, PACs like EMILY’s List and WOMEN VOTE! have doubled their fundraising and contributions to various campaigns on behalf of women to positive electoral results.

James M. Schnoebelen

Further Reading

Bryner, Sarah, and Doug Weber. 2013. Sex, Money and Politics: A Center for Responsive Politics Report on Women as Donors and Candidates. Accessed April 21, 2018. .

Center for Responsive Politics. 2018. “Cost of Election.” Accessed April 21, 2018. .

Dittmar, Kelly. 2014. Money in Politics with a Gender Lens. Accessed April 21, 2018. .

Tovar, Marcela. 2007. Women Candidates and Campaign Finance. Accessed April 21, 2018. .

Witt, Linda, Karen M. Paget, and Glenna Matthews. 1994. Running as a Woman: Gender and Power in American Politics. New York: Free Press.

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Gale Document Number: GALE|CX7650000047