While the marginal effect of fundraising and campaign spending is contested, these measurements offer one method to identify trends and predict the results of political campaigns.
A recent study, conducted by the Center of Responsive Politics, shows that there is a significant gender gap in campaign contributions. In fact, the percentage of federal contributions that come from women has remained mostly static for the past 23 years, only increasing from 22% in 1990 to 25% so far in 2013. Yet the representation of women in Congress has increased more dramatically, with the percentage of women in the House increasing from 7% in 1990 to 18% in 2013. This shows that men and women do not make their contribution decisions based solely on descriptive representation of gender, and one’s party identification is a stronger influence. With the gender gap in party identification, women are more likely to contribute to Democratic candidates, with working women leaning to the left, and homemakers leaning to right.
Still, the study shows that descriptive representation is a factor when it comes to campaign contributions. Female Democrats receive the largest proportion of contributions from women, and male Republicans receive the smallest proportion of contributions from women. In 2012, female Democratic Senator Jan Schakowsky of Illinois received the highest proportion of contributions from women with 65% of contributions coming from women. Compare that to male Republic Senator Thad Cochran of Mississippi, who only received 12.4% of contributions from women in 2012. Holding the party constant, we can compare Jan Schakowsky’s 65% to male Democratic Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts, with only 16.9% of his contributions coming from women in 2012.
Six billion dollars were spent on campaigns in 2012, so it is evident that fundraising is an essential aspect of campaigns. Although there are many factors affecting the under-representation of women in Congress, if women want more descriptive representation in politics, they can be proactive by helping to close the gender gap in campaign contributions and giving more to the campaigns of female candidates.