Gender and donations in Canadian elections

Gender gaps in voter turnout and electoral representation have narrowed, but gaps in other forms of political participation remain.

In “Who Controls the Purse Strings: A Longitudinal Study of Gender and Donations in Canadian Politics,” Randy Besco, Semra Sevi and I examine gendered differences in donations. Donations are important because they furnish campaigns with necessary resources, provide voters with cues about candidate viability, and influence which issues politicians prioritize. This article has been accepted for publication in Politics & Gender.

We exploit an administrative dataset to analyze donations to Canadian parties and candidates over a 25-year period. We use machine learning to estimate donor gender and then link these data to candidate and party characteristics. Importantly, and in contrast to null effects from research on gender affinity voting, we find women are more likely to donate to women candidates, but women donate less often and in smaller amounts than men. The lack of formal gendered donor networks and the reliance on more informal, male-dominated local connections may influence women donors’ behavior. Change over a quarter-century has been modest, and large gender gaps persist.

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Tolley, Erin, Randy Besco and Semra Sevi (2020). Who Controls the Purse Strings? A Longitudinal Study of Gender and Donations in Canadian Politics. Politics & Gender, 1-29. doi:10.1017/S1743923X20000276

Ethnicity and political donations

Despite increased attention to ethnic differences in political behavior, there is little research on ethnic minorities as political donors and almost none outside the United States.

We draw on an administrative dataset of contributions to candidates, which we augment with donors’ ethnicity. Focusing on the 2015 Canadian election, we find ethnic minorities are generally less likely to donate than other Canadians, but South Asian Canadians donate at astonishingly high rates. Contrary to previous research, there are only modest differences in the size of donations across ethnic groups.

Linking donation data to candidate characteristics and census data reveals substantial co-ethnic affinity effects among Chinese and South Asian Canadians. Even in the absence of co-ethnic candidates, however, South Asians donate at a substantial rate. The proportion of donations to out-of-district and weaker candidates is also quite high, which could signal symbolic considerations are especially important to ethnic minority donors. The substantial heterogeneity between ethnic groups and the different effects on rates versus size of donations add important nuance to our knowledge of ethnicity and political behaviour.

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Randy Besco & Erin Tolley (2020) Ethnic group differences in donations to electoral candidates, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies,DOI: 10.1080/1369183X.2020.1804339