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In 2020 Election, Women Playing Bigger Role In Campaign Contributions

Women listen during a drive-in rally for Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden at Cellairis Amphitheatre in Atlanta, Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020.
Andrew Harnik

Campaign contributions are considered a form of speech, and in the 2020 election, women are shouting.

More than ever, women are reaching deeper into their pockets to help sway elections. In North Carolina, those donations favor Democrats.

There are some interesting donor trends in federal races as well. For instance, while men have donated in almost identical numbers and amounts to both Donald Trump and Joe Biden, North Carolina women have favored Biden by a more than 2-to-1 ratio, according to FEC data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. This analysis looks only at itemized donations, or those of at least $200.

Biden has raised $3.4 million from more than 4,300 women in North Carolina, while Trump has raised $1.7 million from 1,870 North Carolina female donors. North Carolina men have also donated more to Biden, though by a slimmer margin. Totaling itemized donations shows Trump has raised $4 million from 4,000 male donors, while Biden has raised $4.5 million from 4,800 men in North Carolina.

Similar patterns emerged in the North Carolina U.S. Senate race. Democratic challenger Cal Cunningham has raised $1.6 million from 1,850 North Carolina female donors, while Republican incumbent Thom Tillis has raised $745,000 from 477 North Carolina female donors. Conversely, Cunningham has raised $2.6 million from 2,600 North Carolina male donors, and Tillis has raised $2.6 million from 1,660 North Carolina male donors.

Fundraising totals for Republican Senator Thom Tillis and Democratic challenger Cal Cunningham.
Credit Open Secrets / Jason deBruyn
Jason deBruyn
Fundraising totals for Republican Senator Thom Tillis and Democratic challenger Cal Cunningham.

"More women are on track to donate more money this election cycle than ever before. And this trend is only rising, especially for democratic donors," said Grace Haley, the gender and race researcher with the Center for Responsive Politics. "That surge provides women with greater political clout and it could make a difference in some of this year's closest political races."

Of course, this race has received interest from outside of the state as well. The North Carolina seat could ultimately be the one that decides which party has control of the United States Senate, and donors in states considered safe to their party will help their preferred candidate in swing states like North Carolina, Maine and Georgia.

Cunningham has raised more than $20 million from donors outside of the state, about 36% from women. Tillis has raised $7.5 million from out-of-state donors, about 23% from women.

Of course, campaign spending isn't the only money spent in a race. Political Action Committees and Super PACs for both parties have spent big in North Carolina. Through Oct. 29, outside groups had already spent more than $205 million in the North Carolina Senate race. That figure would already be an all-time record for spending in any non-Presidential race in United States history. Just six years ago, the race between Tillis and Kay Hagan set an all-time record for the time. Nearly $124 million was spent in that race in 2014; already this year, total spending in the race has exceeded $280 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Total spending on all elections is expected to shatter records this year. The Center for Responsive Politics estimates as much as $14 billion could be spent on all races combined, which would be more than double the $6.5 billion spent in 2016.

Itemized donations are those of at least $200, and often include good information about the donor. Smaller donations don't have as much detail, though there are conclusions to be drawn on the aggregate. Cunningham has raised $15 million from small donors, or about 33% of his total fundraising. Tillis has raised $3.8 million from small donors, or 18% of his total.

"As a whole, studies show that small donors are more representative of the gender, class and racial demographics of diverse voting constituencies," said Haley. "We saw a huge influx of money coming in small donations this summer, and this whole election cycle quite frankly, which gives more demographic groups opportunity to have their preferred candidates viewed as competitive electable candidates."

Jason deBruyn is the WUNC health reporter, a beat he took in 2020. He has been in the WUNC newsroom since 2016.
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