Why Aren’t Women Donating to Political Campaigns?

What Women Really Think
Jan. 15 2014 2:51 PM

Study: Men Shell Out a Lot More for Politicians Than Women Do

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Female politicians like Wendy Davis aren't necessarily handicapped by the giving gap, but their election campaigns might be shaped by all the men giving them money.

Photo by Stewart F. House/Getty Images

Women give far less money to political groups than men, according to a report out this month from the National Council for Research on Women. The paper is in part a response to the 2010 Citizens United decision, which removed the ceiling on outside contributions to political campaigns; it examines data from the 2008, 2010, and 2012 election cycles to create “a ‘before and after’ snapshot of the new monetary environment.” That new environment looks eerily similar to the old one, in that male donors across the board outnumber and outspend female donors. In fact, the gap may be growing: In 2008, men were responsible for about 65 percent of all reported donations over $200, while women shelled out just above 29 percent. Four years later, those figures had diverged to 68 percent and 27 percent. (The percentages don’t add up to 100 because some donors did not specify their gender.)

Citizens United transformed the amount of money flowing to outside groups, or super PACs. Two significant facts there: First, though overall giving to these people-not-people increased twelvefold, women’s donations in 2012 spiked by a factor of 20. And second, even given that leap, men still coughed up four times as much lucre for outside groups as women did. Furthermore, since women are more likely to support “individual candidates, party committees, and other political entities” (that limit donations) than they are to support super PACs (that don’t), the ranks of female “mega-donors” are especially thin. At least, as the Atlantic’s David A Graham observes, “the gender disparity among donors seemed to have no major effect on the gender of the candidates who received the money.” (Wendy Davis’s successful effort to out-fundraise Greg Abbott in Texas last year is a happy demonstration of this fact.)

Still, the figures are troubling, because even if men seem willing to support women’s political campaigns, donations undeniably shape agendas. And lower giving rates could indicate female disenchantment, apathy, or some other uneasiness about the political process—all bad signs for a government in which women hold only 24 percent of the elected positions. Finally, if you were thinking that ladies contribute less because they earn less money overall, think again. Across income levels, women are significantly more likely than men to make charitable donations. So something specific about the political realm must be discouraging us from opening our pocketbooks—a general sense of dysfunction, perhaps?  

Katy Waldman is a Slate assistant editor. Follow her on Twitter.