Maggie Reimherr wasn’t done after the presidential election.
The 28-year-old tech recruiter in Atlanta had spent part of 2020 donating to Democratic presidential candidates she hoped to see elected, starting with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and then moving on to President-elect Joe Biden when he became the presumptive nominee.
But, as her home state gears up for Tuesday’s crucial Senate runoff elections, which will decide the majority in the U.S. Senate, Reimherr decided to keep going, this time donating to Democratic Senate candidates Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock. They are challenging Republicans David Perdue, whose Senate term ended Sunday, and Sen. Kelly Loeffler in runoff elections.
“A couple months ago, I set up recurring donation amounts,” she says. It’s not a huge number, she adds, just $20 a week.
“I really think we’re becoming a more progressive state, and I think our leadership should reflect that,” she says. That belief is what has fueled her donations, she adds.
Though in small amounts, Reimherr’s donations may be part of a larger shift in donations by women to political campaigns, particularly among Democratic women.
The analysis, released in December, looked at contribution data made available by the Federal Election Commission. Using demographic data from itemized donations to Republican and Democratic fundraising platforms, researchers applied an algorithm to identify male and female donors. The analysis has its limitations; names that could not be determined as male or female were excluded. The categories were also limited to male and female, excluding nonbinary people.
It found that in the 2020 races for both the U.S. House and Senate, female candidates outraised men on average, and nearly closed the gap in state-level contests. Additionally, women accounted for 33 percent of donations to congressional campaigns and 31 percent to state-level campaigns.
According to the analysis, female donors have steadily increased their campaign donations since the 2016 election, with the share of contributions greater than $200 from women rising from 28 percent in 2016 to 29 percent in 2018 and, finally, to 33 percent in 2020. Much of that money went toward Democratic candidates.
While women made up 45 percent of donors in the 2020 cycle, they contributed less than 36 percent of the money in total.
“One of the places that disadvantages women, especially women of color, in campaign finance, is in large donations,” says Grace Haley, gender and race researcher at the Center for Responsive Politics and the lead researcher behind the analysis. Not only do women running for congressional and state-level seats rake in less large donations, but female donors tend to donate in small amounts.
“The same economic gaps that we see in gender and race and identity are often mirrored in campaign finance from the donor side or the candidate side,” says Haley.
Haley says much of these gains for female donors were driven by Democratic women, particularly wealthy Democratic women, supporting Democratic candidates, in line with a rush of political participation following the election of Donald Trump in 2016. Republican women also increased donations, Haley says, although it was nowhere near the levels of Democratic women. Republican women went on to win big in 2020 races.
“We’re seeing similar realizations to the importance of mobilizing for both parties, and they both are very different and unique in a way that they do that because we see how gender is politically treated,” Haley says. However, she adds that more ongoing research will be required to fully understand the demographic breakdown of small donors beyond gender, as well as political participation beyond money.
“There’s a lot of ways to be politically active outside of money in politics,” she adds. “And I think that’s just another thing to think about, especially with this election, with a recession that is hitting women, especially women of color, especially hard.”
That’s why Sophie Nir, a 25-year-old political consultant in New York, is headed to Georgia to knock on doors for the Democratic candidates just ahead of the runoff election. Nir began donating as soon as a Georgia runoff became apparent. She says, between straight monetary donations and merchandise purchased from the campaigns, she has hit the $2,800 individual contribution limit for both Ossoff and Warnock.
“American politics is all about having a majority,” she says. “What matters is having a Democratic majority in the Senate.”
As a political consultant, Nir says donating money is a pretty safe bet to help candidates.
Between Oct. 16 and Dec. 16, Warnock and Ossoff each raised more than $100 million. In that same period, Perdue raised $68 million and Loeffler raised $64 million, The Washington Post reported.
Out-of-state donors are part of the reason Pamela Hendrix, a 54-year-old attorney and treasurer of the Conservative Republican Women of Northeast Georgia, decided to donate to both Perdue and Loeffler.
“I hadn’t felt like they needed my money as much as my support,” Hendrix says, pointing out that Perdue and Loeffler are among the wealthiest lawmakers. “What I wanted to show is that we, in Georgia, are behind them because what I had read was a lot of money was coming in from other states and I wanted this to be a Georgia decision.”
Hendrix donated $100 to both Loeffler and Perdue, noting her support for their antiabortion stances. She says she often donates more to local and state campaigns. She even makes monthly donations to her state Republican Party.
“I focus my money very locally,” she says. “I just believe that’s where I can affect the most change.”
Hendrix, who ran for the Georgia House of Representatives in 2016, says she knows how expensive campaigns can be.
“Just printing the signs, the fliers, so I know that,” she says. But, like Nir, she says it’s important to do more than donate. She recently attended an antiabortion march.
Reimherr, the woman who is giving $20 a week to Ossoff and Warnock, says she feels good about where her money is going. The constant barrage of political TV ads can be draining, she says, but she’s happy to see that her money is going toward getting people on the ground.
“I’ve had so many canvassers come to my door and I am always excited for that.”