Women donors remain underrepresented in fundraising for state elections across the country, creating a gender gap that can have wide-ranging impacts on women candidates and political representation, a new report from the Center for American Women and Politics found.
Women donors put forward a third or less of all political contributions in state-level elections between 2019 and 2022, the report found, despite the fact that women made up just under half of donors for all state races in that time period. In races for governor, for example, women — who accounted for 47 percent of all donors — gave just 33 percent of all contributions.
Contributions from women donors did not match or outpace contributions from men donors in any state with comparable elections between 2019 and 2022, the report found, illustrating the pervasiveness of this donor gap, said Kira Sanbonmatsu, an expert on women and politics and one of the authors of the report.
“It’s a nationwide phenomenon,” Sanbonmatsu said. “It is an important form of participation, and we do find large imbalances in how much money women and men are giving to politics — and it’s less visible than looking at voter turnout.”
The share of all money raised from women donors was as low as 14 percent in Nebraska and 18 percent in Illinois, the report found. Colorado led the nation in this time period with 46 percent of all money raised coming from women donors, as it became the second state to elect a majority-woman legislature.
Sanbonmatsu said the impact of this gender gap is wide-ranging. Because women are more likely to donate to women candidates, it can impact who decides to run and how successful they might eventually be. There is research showing that politicians are responsive to their donors, Sanbonmatsu added, meaning that the disparity in donations may give women less influence over policy platforms compared with men.
The report highlighted giving by women donors in states where abortion rights was a prominent election issue. In Florida, for example, where victories by Republican legislative candidates and Gov. Ron DeSantis in 2022 led to a six-week abortion ban, contributions from women donors accounted for just 21 percent of all funds raised in that election cycle.
In Michigan, which in 2022 successfully approved a reproductive rights measure and elected a slate of Democrats who support the issue, women made up 42 percent of all contributions.
“Women have a range of perspectives on that issue, but it does have a disproportionate impact on them,” Sanbonmatsu said. “[The data] speaks to who is shaping the decision-making in the states and, by this metric, women’s voices are not heard to the same extent on this issue.”
The report found significant differences among Democratic and Republican women donors, finding more money from women donors in the coffers of Democratic candidates.
Women donors made up just over half of all donors for Democratic candidates in state-level races between 2019 and 2022, while women made up just over a third of all donors who gave to Republican candidates.
Women donors were more likely to contribute to Democratic women candidates, and least likely to contribute to Republican men, the report found, likely due to the higher share of Democratic women who are donors and the higher likelihood that they will support women candidates.
Democratic women make up two-thirds of all women state legislators. Only four of 26 Republican governors are women.
Despite the gender gap in political giving, the report’s authors found that when women run, they tend to fundraise just as much as men, though they are more likely to rely on small contributions of less than $200 and are less likely to fund their own campaigns.
Still, women remain underrepresented in state political office. Only eight of the 28 governors who ran for reelection in 2022 were women. Seven were White, and only one was Latina. There has never been a Black woman governor.
That lack of representation is exacerbated by challenges in fundraising. White women running against men in gubernatorial primaries fared better in fundraising than women from other racial and ethnic groups. These women were less likely to enter winnable races than White women, the report found.
While the report urges women to become involved in political giving, Sanbonmatsu said the donor gap is another symptom of the broader pay disparity that persists between men and women.
“The gender gap in earnings and wealth have political implications because this is an important form of political participation in our system,” Sanbonmatsu said. “There are a lot of reasons why we might be troubled by gender gaps in pay and wealth, but one we should be thinking about is what this means for who’s running, who’s giving and whose voices are heard.”