OpenSecrets panel explores intersection of race and gender in 2020 election

June 15, 2021

OpenSecrets: OpenSecrets panel explores intersection of race and gender in 2020 election

By: Alyce McFadden

Experts in women in politics discussed new data, compiled by OpenSecrets, exposing the fundraising gap between women of color and other candidates during the 2020 election cycle. OpenSecrets’ Director of Research and Strategy Sarah Bryner moderated the virtual panel Monday.  

A recent OpenSecrets report, “Which Women Can Run? The Fundraising Gap in the 2020 Elections’ Competitive Primaries,” found while “women ran, donated and voted in record numbers during the 2020 elections,” intersectional barriers still make it difficult for women of color to fundraise at the same rate as white women. In fact, Black women received significantly less financial support than any other demographic group running for office. 

White women raised an average of $829,000 — more than double the amount Black women raised. This fundraising gap was especially pronounced during the first year of the 2020 election cycle, demonstrating that women of color face an especially high barrier to entry. 

A’shanti Gholar, the president of Emerge — a nonprofit that recruits, trains and supports Democratic women who run for office — said Monday the fundraising gap comes, in part, from the notion that women of color are less likely to win against white male opponents. 

“That’s what leads us to those terms: ‘electable, viable.’ I hate those terms,” Gholar said. “We have to get out of this mindset of ‘who is this perfect candidate, who can win in these districts.’ I can’t stand white people telling me women aren’t electable. They clearly are.” 

That’s why Kira Sanbonmatsu, a senior fellow at the Center for American Women in Politics, warned audience members against viewing the barriers to women’s political participation as insurmountable or permanent. 

“I don’t want to put statistics out to deter anyone, and we have to be very careful about how we talk about these issues,” Sanbonmatsu said. “If you want to move the needle on this issue, you have to back female candidates.

“All these challenges that women face are connected to race, gender and class. And with some thought and advocacy, [the gap] can be closed,” she continued. 

For Democratic women, groups such as Emerge and Emily’s List can provide resources, support and mentorship to help them overcome those hurdles and run successful campaigns. But, for Republican women with electoral ambitions, opportunities for support are limited, said Jennifer Lim, who founded Republican Women for Progress. 

“We still have this cultural issue of Republicans thinking that women don’t need specific help to run for office and win,” Lim said. “If you’re a Democratic woman, you can go to all of these amazing organizations. Democratic women have realized that the party isn’t going to help them, and Republican women still have not realized that their party is not going to help them.”  

Gholar said that Emerge encourages candidates to make the most of individual donors who give less than $200. OpenSecrets research has shown that women running for office are typically more reliant on small donations than candidates who are men. 

“[It’s important] for us to let women know how far that $2, $3 can really go, because when we pile up our $5, our $15, we are more powerful than any billionaire out there,” Gholar said.

Despite the myriad challenges that still face women, and women of color in particular, the panelists agreed that they anticipate things will change for the better in coming election cycles. 

“Diversity begets diversity, and I think there’s definitely hope in more women opening spaces where they haven’t been before and opening space for women to come after them,” said Mariel Padilla, a reporter with The 19th, a nonprofit news organization that focuses on women and politics.