Women who run for Congress must raise an average of 29 percent more than men in order to win their seats, according to a Phone2Action analysis of 170 House races in which women faced off against men in the 2020 election cycle.
While women are prolific fundraisers—some, like Speaker Nancy Pelosi, are among the largest in American politics—the data shows that women also carry a heavier burden than men when it comes to raising campaign funds. And that is saying something. The average winning House member, male or female, spent roughly 2.4 million, meaning candidates of all stripes must raise thousands of dollars every single day in order to compete.
The idea that women have to raise more money to win has major implications, not only for the candidates themselves and the political parties they represent, but for the PAC managers, fundraisers and donors who support them as we head into a midterm election that will decide control of Congress.
Women are Not Equally Represented
Of course, the idea that women have to work harder to gain the same rewards as men is nothing new. The gap between male and female wages, for example, is well documented. A recent Pew Research study showed that American women worked 42 extra days to be paid the same as men in 2020.
In Congress, women have made historic gains in recent years, yet still fall short of equal representation. There are 147 women serving in the 117th Congress, including non-voting seats: 123 in the House and 24 in the Senate (to see who they are, read Phone2Action’s Women in Congress Guide). Collectively, women make up about 27 percent of the legislative branch, even though they represent about 51 percent of the U.S. population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Still, there are more women serving in Congress right now than ever before. Women also occupy the offices of vice president, House speaker, treasury secretary and many other vital roles, and more women ran for president in 2020 than ever before. Next year’s election will no doubt attract new female candidates for Congress in both parties. The Phone2Action analysis was designed to shed light on the true challenge these candidates will face when it comes to raising money.
Women Must Raise More to Win
The Phone2Action analysis examined 192 House races in which men and women competed in the general election. We focused on 170 of these races, eliminating 22 outliers, such as candidates who raised large sums with no viable challenger, that distort the data. The analysis included campaign accounts only, focusing on the total receipts reported to the Federal Election Commission during the 2019-2020 cycle. Leadership PACs and other vehicles were not counted. Here’s what we found:
- In the 170 House races in which men and women competed, women won 34 percent of the time.
- In the subsample of 58 races in which women won, they raised an average of about $3.6 million—twice the $1.8 million averaged by their male opponents.
- In the subsample of 112 races in which men won, they raised an average of $2.7 million, about $1 million less than the average women had to raise in order to win.
When we compare men and women, controlling for the differences in fundraising across districts—races are more expensive in some places than in others—women have to raise about 29 percent more than men in order to win.
To derive that number, we looked at the total amount raised by all candidates in the 170 races where men and women competed against one another. We compared the share raised by women who won against the share raised by men who won. The share raised by women who won was 29 percent higher than that of men who won. Put another way, women had to raise an average of 29 percent more to beat a man and win a seat.
Of course, money is only one factor in any race. While it is true that the winning candidate, regardless of gender, raised more money 86 percent of the time, history has shown that money is not everything when it comes to congressional races. There are many examples of candidates who raise less money than their opponents but obtain more votes and win.
Indeed, there are dozens of variables that can impact the outcome of a congressional race, including the quality of the candidate, shifting demographics, national political trends, name recognition, party support and more. Candidate fundraising is only one element. But in a world in which candidates must advertise on television, create a robust digital presence and engineer a strong ground game to get out the vote, money is always a vital ingredient.
How to Help Women Candidates
The idea that women have to raise more money than men in order to win has implications for those who support candidates, whether personally or as part of your job. Here are some things that supporters can do to help compensate.
- Supporters can contribute more. If your preferred candidate is a woman, you may want to consider contributing more money. If you are maxed out, consider providing additional help, such as raising money or volunteering for the campaign.
- Fundraisers can cultivate more women donors. Just as more women have run for office, more women are contributing money to politics. The share of contributions over $200 that came from women rose to 33 percent in 2020, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. That’s up from 28 percent in 2016. Women donors also gave almost half their contributions to women candidates in the last cycle. When more women donate, more money is likely to go to female candidates.
- PAC managers can be more inclusive. PAC managers looking to diversify their spend can and should be thinking about women, in addition to minority candidates. Diversifying PAC spending is a relatively new idea, but it makes sense as Congress becomes more representative of America with every cycle. A report in 2016 by Representation 2020 and other organizations has concrete recommendations for PACs. Among those ideas: fund female candidates for open seat races at the same rate you fund male candidates.
Women Must Work Harder
The idea that women face a different landscape when running for federal office —including the need to raise more money—has been studied in the past and most research points to the idea that women must work harder in order to win.
“It’s important to keep in mind that even when the amount of money candidates are able to raise and spend is equal between candidates, previous research has shown it takes even more money for women, especially women of color, to win elections,” a Center for Responsive Politics report about women in politics said in December. “In other words, women running for office are often required to raise more money than their male counterparts to achieve the same levels of success.”
Some of that research was done at Rutgers University, which examined gender barriers after the 2018 midterm election.
“Research shows that ‘gender neutral’ outcomes at the ballot box are not the result of gender neutrality in campaigns,” the report said. “Instead, gender shapes who runs, how they run, and how voters respond to them. For women, waging a campaign for elected office often entails doing additional work to ensure that gender bias does not impede their electoral success. It has also meant being better than their male counterparts.”
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