Can a woman beat President Trump? The question has dogged female candidates throughout the 2020 Democratic primaries — and this week, became a point of dispute between two leading presidential candidates: Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.
One thing is clear: women at least want to give female candidates a fighting chance. Despite persistent questions about electability, female presidential candidates received more support from women donors than their leading male opponents did throughout most of 2019, data show.
It’s part of a broader trend for women, who have become much more politically engaged since the 2016 election. A record number of women ran for public office and won in 2018. And there are more women who have given in a presidential election so far in the 2020 cycle than there were in the previous two presidential cycles, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.
“We’re in new territory. Candidates now have to aim their fundraising appeals directly to women,” said Sheila Krumholz, executive director of CRP, which analyzes political giving by gender. “And women know it. They’re feeling their power.”
Donations don’t necessarily translate into votes, and the money doesn’t tell us whether these female donors believe a woman can defeat Trump. Women are giving a lot to men this year, too, and no candidate has the lock on women donors, Krumholz said. The woman who had the largest share of money from women and donors who are women, Sen. Kamala D. Harris (Calif.), has already dropped out of the race.
Still, it’s clear that female donors wanted to show their financial support for the women in the race. Half the donations to Warren, Harris and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) came from women throughout most of 2019 — a greater share than their male opponents, data show.
On the flip side, male front-runners saw the vast majority of their money come from men, who historically have been bigger players in political giving than women. The male front-runners are getting significant support from women this year, but not as much as men are — underscoring the long-standing gender imbalance among political donors.
So the fact that women donors make up a larger share of both the amount of money raised and the number of donors for female candidates is a significant trend.
The heightened giving by women may be a sign of how enthusiastic they feel that these women are vying for the nomination, says Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University’s Eagleton Institute of Politics.
“It’s an expression, I think, of what we have been watching since 2016: Women increasingly participating in the process, wanting to have a bigger voice, a greater say,” Walsh said.
After all, giving money is an added show of support, whether to amplify their votes or to lend some help even if the donors don’t plan on eventually casting a ballot for the candidate.
“People who give money are more invested in these candidacies,” Walsh said. “You see in the giving an added level of enthusiasm, and I think that is important.”
When it comes to the overall number of donors, the picture is similar. Roughly 60 percent of donors who gave to Warren, Harris and Klobuchar were women, data show. Interestingly, Joe Biden was the only leading male candidate to receive support from a majority of women donors.
A notable difference: Biden had far more women donors who gave the maximum donation amount compared to the women donors who gave to Warren, Harris and Klobuchar — a reflection of Biden’s fundraising strategy to draw maxed-out donors.
The federal data analyzed by CRP includes all donations for the first six months of 2019, but only includes donations of $200 or more for the third quarter of the year. The rest of the 2019 donations, which were not available to be included in the CRP analysis, will be publicly reported on Jan. 31.
The Democratic money race has shifted somewhat during the final three months of 2019, according to figures reported by the campaigns: Warren raised less money than the other top candidates and Klobuchar raised more money than in previous quarters.
Candidates who received a major share of their funds from women have been dropping out of the 2020 race, and Warren is the only candidate left with a majority share of money from women, Krumholz notes. Sanders is less reliant on women, though he is getting significant money from women.
“For women donors’ preferred candidates to stay competitive, they need to give them more,” Krumholz said. “Whether from the candidates’ perspective or that of women giving money: If they want to match the front-runner’s success, they either need to give more money or recruit their sisters.”
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