Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

If You Can't Join 'Em, Beat 'Em: The Gender Gap in Individual Donations to Congressional Candidates

Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

If You Can't Join 'Em, Beat 'Em: The Gender Gap in Individual Donations to Congressional Candidates

Article excerpt


The authors revisit the gender gap in campaign finance and find an advantage for women candidates in earning donations from individual donors due to the activities of female donor networks and the changing congressional donor pool. Women supported by these networks, especially Democratic women, receive a boost in campaign fundraising compared to their male counterparts, whereas women not supported by these networks receive significantly less. The ideological leanings of congressional donors also advantage Democratic women. Substantial partisan gender differences in this area of campaign finance persist, and this fund-raising gap may contribute to the growing partisan gender gap in Congress.


American politics, women and politics, legislative studies

Gains in women's congressional representation have had a strong Democratic bias, and this partisan gap between Republican and Democratic congressional women is predicted to widen (Elder 2008). Explanations for this gap include a paucity of Republican women in the pipeline of state legislative office, a regional realignment that has led to the defeat of Republican representatives, and the high success levels of minority women who disproportionately run as Democrats (Elder 2008). Another possibility for this partisan gender gap may be differences in fundraising capabilities among these candidates. We find that real campaign finance differences between Democratic and Republican women exist, and these differences stem from the activities of female donor networks and the ideological leanings of individual donors in the congressional donor pool. Because networks and donors favor liberal Democratic women, campaign finance may help explain this partisan gender gap among women in Congress.

Individual donors to congressional races contribute slightly more than half of all campaign dollars (Herrnson 2004), and as such, these donors have a genuine opportunity to affect the electoral fortunes of candidates. Because money is a necessary condition for winning elections (Jacobson 1980), campaign fund-raising remains a focus of research examining the causes of women's underrepresentation in Congress (e.g., Burrell 2005; Fiber and Fox 2005). Work on gender bias in campaign fund-raising has concluded that men and women candidates raise the same amount of total campaign dollars (Uhlaner and Scholzman 1986; Burrell 1994).1 However, it is possible that these candidates are taking different paths to achieve this outcome, emphasizing different sources of campaign funds. Women candidates cite their reliance on individual donors as a central aspect of their fund-raising strategies (Witt, Paget, and Matthews 1994). Female donor networks, such as EMILY's List, WISH List, and the Susan B. Anthony List place a special emphasis on soliciting individual contributions from women and funneling those donations to women candidates. A primarily female donor base and a strong emphasis on contributing to women candidates characterize these donor networks. Yet aside from understanding the important role of these female donor networks in providing the seed money that makes the electoral success of women congressional challengers possible (Francia 2001), we know relatively little about the way in which individual contributions, especially those that are bundled through such groups, have redefined the gender gap in campaign finance.

We examine both the effect of female donor networks and the composition of the congressional donor pool on the fund-raising efforts of women candidates and find that when female donor networks support women candidates, they have a substantial advantage in raising funds from individual donors. In addition, recent changes in the congressional donor pool (Francia et al. 2003) have created a fund-raising environment that benefits women candidates. However, this gender gap differs appreciably by party: active female donor networks and the ideology of the congressional donor pool create greater advantages for Democratic women than Republican women in raising individual donations. …

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