The Blog

Of Politics and Blahniks

Women are much more likely to give in to an impulse purchase of a cute pair of peep-toes than to put their money where their policies are.
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

Regardless of the outcome this Election Day, I know Wednesday, November 8th will find me brooding about shoes.

Not any particular pair of Pradas or Blahniks, but what they represent. There's an old political adage designed to encourage women's political giving: "Think about how much money you spent on your last pair of shoes. Now think about the last check you wrote for a candidate." The idea, of course, is that women are much more likely to give in to an impulse purchase of a cute pair of peep-toes than to put their money where their policies are.

The theory seems to have some truth to it. According to a Center for Responsive Politics study, although women tend to vote in higher numbers, men clobber women in using their wallets for political action. In fact, women were only a mere quarter of large individual givers (those that give at least $200) throughout the 1990s. In the 2000 elections, the last so-studied, women gave just 28% of the contributions to political candidates. What's more, there is reason to believe that at least some of those donations were "marital proxies"--gifts given in the wife's name once the husband had maxed out.

Sadly, the results show. For better or worse, money is a critical factor in political power and when women don't give (or give as much), their political will is not fully reflected. (Despite all of the noise about women's votes being the critical ones in the last few elections, this muscle at the ballot box has yet to translate into a raft of family friendly polices.) Furthermore, it makes it even harder for women candidates, who are the voice of women in government, to raise the money they need to succeed.

To really understand the impact, let's don some moderately priced Nikes and run some numbers. Looking at the mid-October fundraising reports, the story is clear. The top five raising female challengers have (thus far) been out-raised by their male counterparts (roughly $15 million to $20 million). While the spread for the top incumbents is slightly less depressing (roughly $18 million to $20 million), the gap on the Senate side is staggering. With respect to challengers, the top three women Senate candidates have been out-raised to the tune of $17 million. And the Senate incumbent side? The men swamp their female colleagues by a breathtaking $23 million (this does not include the formidable fundraising of Sen. Hillary Clinton, who is simply in a stratosphere of her own).

But if we return to our old shoe analogy, women clearly have the power to change this. According to consumer research, the average cost of a pair of shoes in the last year was $26.75. Now let's assume the 2006 election will see 47 million women vote, roughly the same female turnout the U.S. Census recorded in 2002 (the last non-presidential election). If every woman who cared enough to vote gave just the average cost of a pair of shoes to her favorite politician (female or male), they would have collectively (and sensibly) pumped $1.3 billion dollars into the highly competitive 2006 elections. Imagine the impact: that's half of the anticipated $2.6 billion of spending by candidates, parties and issue advocacy groups in the 2006 election overall!

I very much hope, as so many pundits are predicting, that 2006 turns out to be the new "Year of the Woman." I hope that as a nation we manage to break through our dismal 15% representation of women at the federal level. Yet whether we do, or whether we don't, it is clear that every woman is a mere $26.75 away from making a pivotal impact in how seriously Washington takes the needs of women and families. So come November 8th, amidst the inevitable celebrations and recriminations, I will be staring into my closet looking for a better analogy.