Identity in Campaign Finance and Elections: The Impact of Gender and Race on Money Raised in 2010–2018 U.S. House Elections

AuthorAshley Sorensen,Philip Chen
Published date01 September 2022
Date01 September 2022
Subject MatterArticles
Political Research Quarterly
© 2021 University of Utah
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/10659129211022846
A democracy’s strength can be evaluated on its represen-
tation of historically marginalized groups, yet in the
United States, descriptive representation has historically
been limited (Dovi 2002; Mansbridge 1999). Despite the
numerous substantive and symbolic benefits derived
from descriptive representation, women constitute merely
23.7 percent of the United States Congress (and are
roughly 50% of the population) and even though people
of color are 39 percent of the population, they account for
just 22 percent of Congress in 2019 (Center for American
Women and Politics 2019; Lowande, Ritchie, and
Lauterbach 2019). Scholars have posited numerous theo-
ries for why these representational gaps exist, ranging
from gaps in ambition (Fox, Lawless, and Feeley 2001;
Lawless and Fox 2010) and psychological stereotyping
(Huddy and Terkildsen 1993; Schneider and Bos 2014;
Sigelman et al. 1995) to attitudes about proper roles in
society (Arceneaux 2001) and other contextual factors
(Citrin, Green, and Sears 1990).
While we understand the importance of evaluating the
mechanism behind gender and racial gaps in representa-
tion, the extant work falls short in two critical ways. First,
by focusing purely on evaluations of candidates, scholars
risk missing subtle but important effects of candidate
identity on other measures of candidate success (in our
case, fundraising totals). Second, most studies maintain
focus on a single axis of identity (usually race or gender),
potentially missing how compounding forms of system-
atic and attitudinal discrimination operate within an
already marginalized group.
We argue that unequal campaign funding between
candidate demographic groups is one factor yet to be
fully analyzed as a barrier to the descriptive representa-
tion of marginalized groups in Congress. While previous
quantitative research has determined that access to cam-
paign funding is no longer an explanation for women’s
current lack of descriptive representation, these conclu-
sions result from the prioritization of one identity over
22846PRQXXX10.1177/10659129211022846Political Research QuarterlySorensen and Chen
1University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN, USA
2Beloit College, Beloit, WI, USA
Corresponding Author:
Philip Chen, Beloit College, 700 College St, Beloit, WI 53511-5595,
Identity in Campaign Finance and
Elections: The Impact of Gender and
Race on Money Raised in 2010–2018
U.S. House Elections
Ashley Sorensen1 and Philip Chen2
Disproportionate rates of congressional representation based on gender and race are especially stark considering
the symbolic and substantive meaning derived from descriptive representation (Mansbridge 1999). Using an original
data set consisting of candidate demographics, district characteristics, and campaign finance reports, we analyze an
understudied barrier to representation: unequal access to campaign receipts. We argue that it is the simultaneous
gendering and racialization of the campaign finance system that produces gaps in campaign fundraising and representation
(Crenshaw 1989). Our results underscore the limitations of unitary approaches which conclude that women no longer
face a disadvantage in campaign fundraising. Unequal access to campaign receipts serve as a barrier to the descriptive
representation of women of color. By analyzing the interaction of both race and gender on campaign receipt totals in
U.S. House elections from 2010 to 2018, we assert the path to representation is not equal for all.
gender, race, campaign fundraising, congressional elections
2022, Vol. 75(3) 738–753
Sorensen and Chen 739
another (i.e., concentration on a candidate’s gender over
race or race over gender), have only been conducted at
the state level, or exclusively focused on one election
cycle (Bryner and Haley 2019; Burrell 2014; Carroll and
Fox 2018; Grumbach and Sahn 2020; Hogan 2007; Sojka
Understanding that systems of oppression intersect to
shape experiences, and that people with multiple margin-
alized identities tend to be the most institutionally
oppressed, we argue that the exploration of unequal
access to campaign receipts as a barrier to descriptive
representation in the U.S. House of Representatives must
consider how candidates with multiple marginalized
identities are positioned (Bryner and Haley 2019;
Crenshaw 1989; Hancock 2004; Hawkesworth 2003;
Strolovitch 2006).
Fundraising as a Barrier to
One of the strongest indicators of congressional viability
is a candidate’s access to campaign contributions.
Campaign fundraising and spending provide candidates
with the necessary tools and resources to carry out a wide
range of campaign-related activities such as advertising,
voter mobilization, and polling, which have a strong
empirical relationship with electoral success (Bond et al.
2012; Freedman, Franz, and Goldstein 2004; Hall and
Bonneau 2008; Jacobson 2015; Kam and Zechmeister
2013). In fact, Box-Steffensmeier, Darmofal, and Farrell
(2009) and Ferguson, Jorgensen, and Chen (2016) found
campaign spending to have an isolated and significant
effect on voter support. Expenditures can help candidates
from underrepresented groups challenge gender and/or
racial stereotypes through obtaining access to campaign
advertising, mobilizing low turnout-voters, and conse-
quently increasing levels of name recognition and cam-
paign framing opportunities (Albright 2014; Bullock,
Gaddie, and Ferrington 2002; Fraga 2018; Lieske 1989).
Thus, to the extent that campaign money accrues to
certain types of candidates, it can exaggerate or negate
opportunities for descriptive representation.
Gender Influences on Campaign
At first glance, however, campaign fundraising does not
appear to be particularly problematic for candidates from
marginalized groups. Burrell’s most recent study on U.S.
House elections from 1993 to 2010 found that women
raise equal or more money compared with men (Burrell
2014, 144, 145). If fundraising gaps no longer exist, then
we should not be concerned about the ability of campaign
fundraising to exacerbate gaps in representation. On the
other hand, while previous quantitative research has
shown that fundraising no longer serves as a barrier to
women’s numbers in Congress, the results of existing
work are still inconclusive once we take interactions
between a candidate’s race and gender into consideration
(Carroll and Fox 2018; Green 2003; Hogan 2007;
Kitchens and Swers 2016; La Cour Dabelko and Herrnson
Women serving in state legislatures cite numerous rea-
sons as to why they believe fundraising is harder for
women than men. Their explanations range from men and
women having distinctive social networks to there being
gendered differences in women and men’s comfort in
asking for money (Sanbonmatsu, Carroll, and Walsh
2009). Compared with men, women tend to gain a broader
range of financial support because they generally raise a
higher percent of their funds from individual donors and
in smaller amounts (Crespin and Deitz 2010; Green 1998;
Herrick 1996; Jenkins 2007; La Cour Dabelko and
Herrnson 1997). In fact, it was the success of female
Political Action Committees (PAC) organizations, such
as EMILY’s List, which ameliorated women’s campaign
finance burden by efficiently bundling individual dona-
tions for women running for office. While Crespin and
Deitz (2010) point out that women’s tendency to rely on
individual donors might suggest they have a broader net-
work of support, it can also mean women are required to
work harder than men to raise similar amounts of money
(Jenkins 2007). Interestingly, these gender-based chal-
lenges do not seem to automatically translate into fund-
raising disparities, as Burrell (2014) finds that women
actually perform well with both smaller and larger dona-
tions. However, surveys of donors and PACs indicate that
even with the rise of female PAC organizations, they have
failed to address the overall fundraising challenges faced
by Republican and some Democratic women (Crowder-
Meyer and Cooperman 2018; Kitchens and Swers 2016;
Thomsen and Swers 2017). Only 52 percent of Democratic
women and 25 percent of Republican women received
support from female donor PACs. The Republican women
who received these funds still raised less than Republican
men. Consequently, gender-neutral fundraising outcomes
should not be equated to the absence of a male-dominated
fundraising process. Women and men may raise equal
amounts of money, but women could be working harder
per each dollar raised.
Racial Influences on Campaign
Gender is also not the only axis of identity on which
access to campaign money is potentially more difficult.

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