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Are Democratic presidential candidates drawing more cash from Iowa men or women?

Nick Coltrain and Grace Haley
Des Moines Register/OpenSecrets
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Iowa men and women have donated money to the Democratic presidential candidates in about equal amounts overall, but some individual candidates’ contributions have a distinctly gendered tilt.

Former U.S. housing secretary Julián Castro and U.S. Sen. Cory Booker have received more than 60% of their Iowa campaign contributions from women, a higher proportion than any of the top-polling women running for president.  

Almost three-quarters of Iowa donors to entrepreneur Andrew Yang and U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard are men. Gabbard had the lowest proportion of her total dollars coming from women — only 18% of her Iowa haul.

The findings come from an analysis by the Des Moines Register and OpenSecrets of 25,000 Iowa donors to the Democratic presidential candidates. The analysis included donations over $200, large enough amounts to require line-item reporting in Federal Election Commission filings, and small-dollar donations completed through the online fundraising tool ActBlue. Those campaign donations totaled about $1.2 million — or $48 per Iowa donor.

The FEC filings include donations through Sept. 30. The small-dollar donations given through ActBlue are through June 30. This analysis considers candidates who were either included in the most recent televised debate or raised money from 1,000 or more Iowans. In addition to Booker, Castro, Gabbard and Yang, it includes Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. OpenSecrets was not able to obtain Tom Steyer’s itemized receipts from the FEC by the time this analysis was published, so he is excluded.

OpenSecrets used an algorithm to sort donors by gender and manually reconciled individuals who couldn’t be automatically sorted. About 830 Iowa donors, or 3% of the total, were excluded because they were gender indeterminate donations or joint contributions, or the data was not reconcilable.  

Overall, male and female Iowans have given about an equal amount of money to the field, though more women have donated to a presidential candidate. Female Iowans account for 55% of individual donors.

Castro and Booker, who have raised less money than many of their rivals, don’t lead in terms of total donations from women, but something about their campaigns has proven more likely to draw financial support from women in Iowa than from men. 

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, the leader nationally in individual donations and total raised, including among women, had the largest sheer number of women donors from Iowa (3,149) and the largest amount contributed by women ($166,689). Women make up about 47% of his total individual Iowa contributions in terms of dollars received.

The Democratic field received the following totals from Iowa women; also shown is the percent of money raised from women in Iowa:

  • Castro: $16,396 from women, or 63.93%
  • Booker: $29,056, or 63.22%
  • Warren: $85,713, or 53.40%
  • Klobuchar: $34,774, or 53.30%
  • Harris: $51,178, or 53.18%
  • Biden: $71,941 or 50.46%
  • Buttigieg: $96,620, or 47.93%
  • Sanders: $169,869, or 47.34%
  • Yang: $10,267, or 27.77%
  • Gabbard: $5,995, or 18.58%

Castro, Warren and Harris have received more money from women than men nationally. While Booker nationally has one of the highest proportions of donors who are women, only about 44% of his fundraising dollars from across the country are from women.

Men give more to candidates, but women catching up

Nationally, for every itemized dollar going to a presidential candidate, about 57 cents came from a man and 43 cents from a woman. Of the more than $374 million donated by individuals so far in the 2020 cycle, men have donated $173 million and women have donated $131 million (the remaining donations were either unitemized, gender indeterminate, or joint contributions).

Historically, women give less than men to political candidates, though that gap is closing, said Karen Kedrowksi, director of the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics at Iowa State University. Two leading hypotheses for the fundraising gap are that women are paid less than men, thus having less disposable income, and men often have more control over family finances.

But as that gap closes, the female donors are no more likely to give money to female candidates than male contenders, she said.

“Clearly, in the cases of Booker and Castro, those women are not donating to those two because they’re placing their gender identity first and foremost,” she said. “They’re putting something else ahead that’s more important to them.”

Kendra Robbins, a 19-year-old college student from Runnells, chipped in $10 or $15 to Castro’s campaign to help him reach the debate stage. He’s her preferred candidate.

Castro, who is Latino, and Booker, who is black, have both stressed that their backgrounds allow them to focus on interests of minority communities in ways that many white candidates cannot, Robbins said.

"They just speak to us on another level,” she said of Castro and Booker.

She said she finds that more relatable as a woman, and she criticized female candidates for not embracing their identity.

The female candidates are "not trying to run as women,” Robbins said. “They’re trying to run as men, basically.”

Kedrowksi said that female candidates need to walk a thin line, balancing societal double standards of who's regarded as electable — be assertive, but not too assertive; be feminine but not too feminine, for example — and end up treating their gender as incidental to their status as a candidate, not a defining trait.

“The one woman candidate who did lean into her status as a woman and advocate was (U.S. Sen.) Kirsten Gillibrand, and Gillibrand is now out of the race,” Kedrowski said. “The elect-a-feminist message didn’t resonate.” 

Castro frequently invokes his mother, a women’s rights and Chicana activist, when talking about why he’s active politically.

"These powerful numbers speak to the people-focused campaign Secretary Castro is running,” Cynthia Sebian-Lander, Castro's state director in Iowa, said in a statement. “He was raised by two strong women, and women make up a majority of senior leadership and staff on the campaign. He will continue to be a champion for equality, reproductive rights, working families and women, who will ultimately decide our nominee and president."

Booker communications director Tess Seger struck a similar note and thanked Iowa women for their support.

"Women, especially women of color, are the backbone of the Democratic Party, and we're proud that our donors reflect that here in Iowa and nationwide,” Seger wrote in a statement. “Cory Booker has the strongest record of accomplishment and vision to combat the systemic injustices that have excluded far too many people, especially women and minorities, from the American Dream for too long."

Gabbard was the only candidate on the recent debate stage with more unfavorable opinions of her (43%) than favorable (21%) among Iowa women likely to attend the Democratic caucuses, according to the November Des Moines Register/CNN/Mediacom Iowa Poll. Castro, who was not on the debate stage but has more than 1,000 donations from Iowans, was close to even, with 34% favorability among women and 32% unfavorability; most candidates on the stage had substantially higher favorability than unfavorability with Iowa women.

Of the 12 men running for president who were tested in the poll,  Buttigieg and Booker were the only two with higher favorability among Iowa women likely to attend the caucuses than among Iowa men; Steyer was tied in that measure. Three of the five women running for president had higher favorability among Iowa women than men (Harris, Klobuchar and Warren); Gabbard and author Marianne Williamson had higher favorability with Iowa men than women.

The Yang and Gabbard campaigns did not respond to requests for comment.

This story has been updated. It initially misidentified U.S. Sen. Cory Booker's communications director Tess Seger.

Nick Coltrain is a politics and data reporter for the Register. Reach him at or at 515-284-8361. Grace Haley is a researcher with

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