Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Feminist Diversity: The Policy Preferences of Women's PAC Contributors

Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Feminist Diversity: The Policy Preferences of Women's PAC Contributors

Article excerpt

RESEARCH NOTE

Support for women in politics comes from across the ideological spectrum, as illustrated by the ideological diversity of political action committees devoted to the election of women. This study of major contributors to EMILY's List, which raises money for Democratic pro-choice women candidates, and WISH List, which raises money for Republican pro-choice women candidates, examines the policy preferences of both groups using ordinary least-squares regression. We hypothesized that the relatively liberal policy preferences of EMILY's List contributors, compared to the more conservative attitudes of WISH List contributors, were attributable to three types of explanations: symbolic politics, trust in government, and social status. Results of the analysis support both the symbolic politics explanation, represented by indicators of ideological affiliation and feminist consciousness, and the trust in government explanation. However, differences in the social and demographic characteristics of these two groups explain very little of their divergent policy preferences.

Women's equality in business, the professions, and politics is now widely accepted across the ideological spectrum. As the presence of women in government has expanded in recent decades, so has the political and ideological diversity of Americans who support female candidates. This political phenomenon is reflected in the diversity of political organizations committed largely or exclusively to electing women. More than 50 state and national political action committees (PACs) and donor networks, representing a range of partisan and ideological preferences, contribute primarily to women candidates and/or have a predominantly female donor base (CAWP News and Notes 1996; Roberts 1992). Collectively, they are a major factor in the increasing electoral and fundraising accomplishments of women candidates (Carney 1992; Carroll 1994; Dabelko and Hermson 1997; Flammang 1997; Fox 1997; Nelson 1994; Schroedel and Mazumdar 1998).

Our survey of contributors to two of the most visible women's PACs, EMILY's List and WISH List, illustrates the widely divergent issue positions held by political activists who share the goal of electing more pro-choice women to office. EMILY's List, standing for Early Money Is Like Yeast ("it makes the dough rise"), raises money for Democratic pro-choice women candidates; WISH List, standing for Women In the Senate and House, raises money for Republican pro-choice women candidates. EMILY's List has ranked among the largest of the federal PACs for several years. In the 1995-1996 election cycle, the cycle for which our donor survey was conducted, EMILY's List raised over $12 million, making it the single largest PAC in terms of both receipts and disbursements. WISH List also ranked among the largest PACs in 1995-1996, contributing over $1 million to its candidates (Marshall 1997; Kalb 1996; Rozell 1999; Thomas 1998).

What are the policy implications of this fundraising and electoral success? Much has been written about the political attitudes and behavior of women politicians and the impact of their increasing numbers on government (Carey, Niemi, and Powell 1998; Dodson 1998; Mandel and Dodson 1992; Reingold 1992; Tamerius 1995; Thomas 1994; Thomas and Welch 1991). At the same time, we know little about their campaign contributors. A study of donors who gave $200 or more to congressional candidates in the 1996 election found women more likely to contribute for ideological or policy reasons and men more often motivated by material concerns. Women's contributions also are more likely to be bundled by organizations (Green, Herrnson, Powell, and Wilcox 1999). Thus the policy preferences of contributors to women's PACs such as EMILY's List and WISH List, donors who are overwhelmingly women, are worthy of study. Our research indicates that the policy preferences of donors to these two women's PACs, as expected, divide along partisan lines. …

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