Which women can run? Gender, partisanship, and candidate donor networks

Danielle M. Thomsen, Michele L. Swers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

62 Scopus citations


Recent scholarship rejects campaign finance as a cause of women’s underrepresentation in Congress because women raise as much money as men running in similar races. We argue that campaign finance still impacts which women can make a run for office because candidates have to build their own donor networks. Using a unique dataset that includes primary and general election candidates for the U.S. House in 2010 and 2012, we examine the gender composition of candidates’ donor networks. We find that candidates’ ideological views are very important to contributors. Donors, particularly Democrats, also exhibit a gender affinity effect in which men give more to male candidates and women favor female candidates. Furthermore, female Democratic donors seem to value the election of women, especially liberal Democratic women, over other traditional predictors of giving, such as incumbency and competitiveness. Meanwhile, Republican male and female donors do not focus on candidate gender, and female Republican donors prefer conservative candidates. Thus, the existing partisan donor pools are friendlier to the emergence of liberal female Democrats than Republican women.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)449-463
Number of pages15
JournalPolitical Research Quarterly
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1 2017


  • Campaign finance
  • Congress
  • Donor networks
  • Elections
  • Gender and politics
  • Ideology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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