Bernie Sanders Dominates 2020 Presidential Field in Donations From Suburban Women

If the most recent round of elections this week taught us anything about the way things will play out in 2020 it’s this: Don’t underestimate the growing power of women as both a voting bloc and source of funding. 

In Virginia, Democrats took full control of the state government for the first time since 1994. That win was partially due to a cash infusion of the $2 million from Emily’s List, a group that backs female candidates who support abortion access. And it’s not just Virginia. In Republican strongholds like Kentucky and Pennsylvania, Democrats picked up wins thanks largely to the votes of suburban women. 

“We should always take lessons learned from each election and I think that as a party we have recognized that we have seen an erosion of support among women, suburban women,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Ark.) told reporters the day after the election. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also pointed out that his party lost out because they lost “women in the suburbs, which led in the House to losses in suburban Kansas City, Oklahoma City, Houston, Dallas, Atlanta, Charleston.”

The demographic group was crucial to President Donald Trump’s election in 2016 and will be equally crucial to his reelection campaign next year. But have they abandoned him for good?

A recent report by the Center for Responsive Politics used fundraising data made available by the Federal Elections Commission to analyze where women were putting their money, and likely their votes, in the upcoming presidential election. 

The data shows that women are politically engaged earlier in the election than ever before, more than 1 million have already donated $131 million itemized dollars to presidential candidates. Men, however, still make up the largest donor group. For every dollar given, $0.57 came from a man and $0.43 came from a woman. It also found that no one presidential candidate is carrying that almighty suburban female vote just yet, but that some candidates are making greater inroads than others. Namely: Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. 

Of all the potential 2020 candidates, Sanders has taken in the most money from women, raising about $17.1 million in itemized contributions, or 40% of his total funds. Trailing just behind Sanders is Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), each with about $15 million coming from women. Surprisingly, it’s a female candidate, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), who received the least amount of funding from women, with just $1.05 million coming in. 

But while Sanders, Warren, and Buttigieg dominate in total donations, when you break those numbers down to the ratio of contributions by women, the results change. 

Former United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro leads the pack of all candidates with 57% of all itemized contributions coming from women, followed by Harris with 53%, and Warren with 51%. President Trump rounded out  the bottom three, with just 35% of itemized contributions coming from women, followed by Andrew Yang with 29% and Gabbard with 24%. 

Still, the president is so far beating his 2016 record by 7 points, when he received 28% of his itemized contributions from women. 

The breakdown of campaign contributions from suburban women mostly tracks with overall contributions from women—Sanders, Warren, and Buttigieg once again lead the Democratic pack. But the divide grows stronger when further splintered into large-dollar donors and small-dollar donors. Trump dominates in large-dollar donations (more than $200) by suburban women, receiving more than $8 million from 10,500 individuals. He’s followed by Harris and former vice president Joe Biden. 

“This is bad news for Biden, it shows he’s got a problem with the female vote,” said Brad Bannon, a democratic strategist and consultant. “And when you look at the polls, women are significantly more likely to be voting for Warren or Sanders than Biden.” 

Biden has been accused in the past of inappropriately touching women and criticized for his handling of Anita Hill’s allegations of sexual harassment against Clarence Thomas, but Bannon says the disparity has more to do with “women being, in general, more progressive than their male counterparts,” especially around programs like Medicare for All. 

Sanders, meanwhile has received more than $13 million in small-dollar donations from nearly 280,000 suburban women. Combining small and large-dollar donations, Sanders earned more than any other presidential candidate amongst suburban women with a total of $15 million from small and large donors alike. 

In 2016, Sanders’ campaign was criticized for being a male-dominated enterprise in which women were paid less and treated poorly. Since then, Sanders has worked hard to make amends with former staffers and women now make up 70% of his campaign leadership team. Endorsements from three out of four House “squad” members, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez also helped bolster his appeal to women, said Bannon. A study by The Economist found that women under the age of 45 make up a larger part of Sanders’ base than men in the same age range.

Women, and suburban women, are a fluid and diverse group and can’t be expected to vote in a “monolithic” bloc, wrote the report author, Grace Haley. 

Sanders and Warren do well in diverse suburban districts, while Trump does better in suburbs that are less diverse. 

“Trump is heavily relying on white women, especially independents and those who live in the suburbs, to bring him to victory in 2020,” wrote Haley.

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