White Women Were Responsible for Trump’s Surprise Win
I, like everyone else Tuesday night, was shocked to learn that Donald Trump somehow managed to secure the 270 electoral votes needed to win the election and become the President-elect of the United States. Even though I did predict a couple months back that Donald Trump would win, that was before the release of the Access Hollywood tapes; I had assumed, as had nearly every other political analyst, that the content of those tapes, along with the countless number of women that subsequently accused Trump of some sort of sexual harassment, would create an insurmountable gender gap for Donald Trump. Women would feel that President Donald Trump represented a clear and imminent threat to their physical and emotional safety and health, and would also be driven to Clinton by a desire to elect her the first female President of the United States.
Trump, however, did win. While full turnout data has not yet been reported, what is clear is that rural, non-college-educated male and female whites turned-out in overwhelming numbers for Trump compared to what they were projected; that is, as the Trump campaign has repeated ad nauseam throughout the campaign, and as the mainstream media rebuked ad nauseam, there indeed appears to be a hidden, rural, white vote that either the polls failed to pick-up or that Trump managed to turnout where previous Republicans had failed.
According to exit polls, 67% of non-college-educated whites voted for Trump, while only 28% supported Clinton; this compares to a 61%-36% gap for Romney, and a 58%-40% gap for McCain. Polls were projecting the non-college-educated white margin to be around 32%; they ended up being 39%. Trump did lose about 7% of the college-educated white vote compared to Romney, although only 3% of this ended up going to Clinton, with Trump ultimately winning 49% to 45%; polls had projected him losing the vote by around 9%.
The opposite pattern, however, occurred among white women. Trump won white non-college-educated women 62% to 34%, a margin of 28%; this is significantly less than both Mitt Romney won, 20%, as well as what the polls had been projecting, 12-13%. Likewise, although Trump lost white college-educated women 45% to 51%, a margin of 6 points, polls had been projecting a whopping 25-point loss. Indeed, Trump was projected to lose white women by around 2-3%; he ultimately won by 10%The role that gender plays in unearthing the “hidden white vote” cannot be understated. Trump won non-college educated white men 72% to 23%, a margin of 49%; this was significantly greater than Mitt Romney’s 31% margin, but ultimately significantly lower than polls had been suggesting. Polls had predicted Trump to win white non-college-educated men by 59%, ten whole points less than the final tally. This same finding holds up with white men more broadly: Trump was projected to win white men by a margin of 40 points, but only won by 32 points.
What do all of these trends imply? They do point to the existence of a “hidden Trump vote” who either did not feel compelled to turnout for Mitt Romney or who the polls were unable to pick up. However, these voters where not non-college-educated white men, as the media narrative often claims: indeed, as already mentioned the polls overestimated their amount of support by around 10%. What instead drove Trump’s support was primarily a hidden white-women vote: polls underestimated the amount of support Trump would get from both non-college-educated and college-educated white women, the former by a margin of around 15%, the latter by a margin of around 20%.
Why was Trump’s support among women “hidden”? Seemingly, no one really knows, and I am certainly no expert on the female psyche, so I will not pretend to offer a comprehensive answer. What I do believe the final results reveal is two phenomena: some white women were compelled to turnout for Donald Trump when they were not compelled to turnout for Mitt Romney; and other white women were ashamed to tell pollsters that they indeed supported a candidate who, in the month prior to the election, was found to brag about sexually assaulting women.
Regardless of which story is more true (and both definitely are at work, to one degree or another), the implications are monumental. Although Donald Trump seemingly presented the greatest threat to women in modern political history, and although white women surely realized that Trump’s derogatory rhetoric would, to a significant degree, serve to destigmatize and normalize derogatory rhetoric toward women, influencing the behavior of young men for generations to come, they did not care. Not only did they not care, but they overwhelmingly drove him to victory, particularly non-college-educated white women.
What does this mean? And what are its implications?
The logic as to why some white women would lie to pollsters is that they were afraid to reveal their true preferences; that is, due to some set of learned social cues and norms, they felt pressured, perhaps if the pollster was a fellow woman, to hide their true preferences, for fear of the social consequences or shame that they would internally-feel as a result. However, once white women got to the ballot box, absent the regulating social cues and norms that person-to-person interaction contains, and faced the choice, that no one else would be made aware of, between Clinton and Trump, white women ultimately chose Trump far more than what was expected. To me, this signals that “whiteness” makes up a substantially larger part of the white-female identity than I had thought, particularly in relation to femininity.
To understand this latter statement, I will briefly outline my theory regarding Trump’s support, that being that Trump’s campaign and policy agenda was largely centered around a desire to reaffirm the superiority of “whiteness.” That is, many of Trump’s supporters feel that “whiteness,” or the white race, is in relative decline in American political, social and economic institutions, particularly based on the belief that the rising status of minority groups “threatens” their current place in the institutional hierarchy. A large, sprawling amount of data support this assertion, but I will highlight only a few here.
A Pew Research Center study found that, when asked what issues facing the country were most important, the issue mentioned that best determined whether an individual would feel “warmly” about Trump were: “Growing number of newcomers from other countries threatens U.S. values.” Tied for second, was “Bad for country that blacks, Latinos, Asians will be majority of the population.
Another study, completed by Stanford University Professor Robb Willer, titled “Threats to Racial Status Promote Tea Party Support Among White Americans,” argued that “various political, economic, and demographic trends and events,” most notably, the election of the first African-American President, help explain varying levels of support for the Tea Party movement. Respondents in the study were given a set of information, with some respondents receiving a “framing” of this information that was meant to heighten the perceived threat to the relative standing of whites; those respondents, in turn, were found to express greater support and enthusiasm for the Tea Party. Indeed, when respondents were shown the racialized aspects of its platform, rather than the economically-libertarian aspects, “threatened white respondents reported strong[er] support for the Tea Party.”
Lastly, a April 2016 study created a metric measuring “racial resentment,” which the study also refers to as “symbolic racism,” or “a subtle form of racism that blends negative feelings about Blacks, as a group, with traditional American values, specifically individualism.” The study examined questions asked in the 2016 American National Election Survey, asking if African-Americans “have gotten what they deserve,” whether they should overcome prejudice and work their way up “without any special favors” in the same way that previous immigrants supposedly did, whether it’s “really a matter of [blacks] not trying hard enough,” as to why they are not as well off as whites, and whether “generations of slavery and discrimination have created conditions that make it difficult for Blacks to work their way out of the lower class.” The metric, based on answers given to these questions, found that “only” 43% of Sanders supporters and 40% of Hillary supporters exhibited high levels of racial-resentment, compared to more than twice that amount, 81%, for Trump supporters. “Racial resentment” connects to my theory regarding “whiteness” as it communicates a set of strongly-held beliefs about the nature of the world and African-Americans that reflect the existence, more often in the mind of Trump supporters, of an inherent and internalized racial hierarchy.
Of course, there is more nuance and complexity than this, and of course some Trump supporters are not outwardly racist: the larger point I am attempting to make is that, underwriting Trump’s support, is a shared sense that “whiteness” is in relative decline in American political, social, and economic life. The fact that white women voted overwhelmingly for Trump evidences the fact that they devote a significantly larger part of their identity to the need to protect their whiteness, rather than the need to protect their femininity. In other words, white women fear the decline of whiteness more than they fear that Trump’s temperament toward women will increase the likelihood that they will live in a hostile social or political environment due to their gender.
This all means that race plays a significantly larger role in American politics than gender, at least for the older generation of Americans (Millennials of all races and genders voted for Clinton). In terms of translating this analysis into something substantive, one thing in particular comes to mind: sexism cannot be eliminated, or significantly curbed, until racism is eliminated, or significantly curbed. That is, whenever a group attempts to dismantle or eliminate the patriarchy, some white women will ultimately come to its defense, for fear that the racial hierarchy will be derailed as well. Of course, many white women are not and never were racist, and fight unrelentingly against sexism; but, what I believe Trump’s win shows, is that the coalition needed to truly deliver the cultural and social change needed to uproot and dismantle sexism will not be built until white women are able to decouple, to a substantial degree, their whiteness from their identity, and replace it with their gender.
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