The gender gap in voting is the latest hot topic after a USA Today poll showed Obama leading women voters over Romney by 18 points in key swing states. But there’s another gender gap when it comes to election season, and this one doesn’t work in women’s favor: women are being completely outspent by men in campaign contributions.
This isn’t a new trend. While women have been slowly working on increasing our numbers in Congress – even though our representation is far, far from equal – there hasn’t been equal progress in women donating to Congressional candidates, the Center for Responsive Politics reports. Campaign contributions have long been a boy’s club, although women made advances when both Clintons made their runs.
The problem isn’t just limited to Super PAC spending, however. The Chronicle reports, “Overall, women, who make up slightly more than half the population, account for about one-third of contributions to candidates, parties and political action committees.” For example, in the 2010 midterms women were only about a quarter of donors to House Democrats and 28 percent of those to Senate Dems.
Why this huge gulf in spending? Do women just care less about politics? Given the immense power the gender gap in voting has given Democrats in recent cycles, that seems unlikely. The real problem is pretty simple: we just have less money to spend than men do. Women are still making 77 cents to a man’s dollar. They also rarely make it into the top paying ranks of American companies. They only account for 7.5 percent of top earners in Fortune 500 companies. That’s in part because they are so underrepresented in the C-suite: they are only 20 percent of executive officers and board members at those companies and a measly 3.6 percent of CEOs. Not to mention that we get charged more for products from deodorant to health care, so that money doesn’t stretch as far.
Our spending numbers are also likely depressed in this cycle because of the battering we’ve taken during the recovery. Women have only gotten about one-third of the roughly 200,000 jobs added in January and February, and just as recently as August they were even losing jobs. That’s why while men’s unemployment rate has improved slightly, women’s has gone up.
On top of all of this, the reasons we give are completely different. Men are giving money to gain access to politicians, but when women give we do it because of certain policy issues. A man is typically a “transaction donor,” Sherry Merfish, who spent 20 years working for EMILY’s List, told the Chronicle. “Women are very different for the reason they give. They are not giving for access, they are giving for results.”
But if we want to push our agenda, we have to wield political money like a tool. Women don’t just have a problem of representation. Our agenda – our rights, needs, and viewpoints – is far less likely to make it onto the agendas of the officials we elect to office if we don’t use money to make it important. We’ll be outmaneuvered by men if we keep being outspent.