THE CLINTON CAMPAIGN was also disappointed by the level of support it received from women, and one prevalent narrative holds that they are responsible for her loss. This despite Secretary Clinton’s historic place as the first woman to top a major party ticket, not to mention Trump’s misogynistic discourse and boasts of committing sexual assault with impunity. But here again we must disaggregate the larger group, because overall, Clinton performed well among women. She won the female vote nationally by a 12- to 13-point margin, while Trump won the male vote by 11-12 points depending on the poll. Only the 2000 election has had a gender gap even close to this large in the past 44 years.14
In the lead up to the election, a common forecast was that single women and collegeeducated women would show historic electoral might, catapulting Clinton to victory. National exit polls found that unmarried women did indeed give Clinton a much wider margin (63-32) than did married women (49-47), but it was not nearly as large as Barack Obama’s margins with this group.15 Nor did unmarried women come close to outnumbering married women at the polls, as some predicted they could.16 This is in part because unmarried women’s 2016 participation rate (56 percent) continued to be far below that of their married counterparts (68.7 percent).17
But the central line along which Clinton’s margin with women split was that of race. While exit polls estimate that nearly 95 percent of African American women voted for Clinton, it was Trump who won the majority of white women—52 percent. Political scientist Jane Junn points out that this is consistent with a long historical trend: 1996 saw the only election of the past 50 years in which a Democratic presidential candidate carried a majority of white women. Junn further argues that what is conventionally known as the “gender gap” in voting is actually inflated by the presence of more voters of color in the female electorate than in the male.18 Census Bureau estimates bear out that 28 percent of women who voted in 2016 identified with a race/ethnicity other than white, compared to 25 percent of men.19 Trump’s success with white women also reminds us that women—like all voters— vote their party affiliation first, irrespective of whether there is a female candidate in the race.20 Indeed, an analysis of white Republican women finds that even those who expressed the strongest views on gender equality and against hostile sexism were only slightly less likely than the least gender-conscious Republican women to have voted for Trump in the general election.21
Among white women, there was also a noteworthy education gap in voting behavior. Secretary Clinton won among white women who hold college degrees 51-45—a margin that appears narrow, but in fact represents a reversal for this group relative to 2012.22 Meanwhile, 60-62 percent of white women without a college degree voted for Trump. Significantly, this group is a larger portion of the electorate than white female college graduates in key Midwestern swing states, giving its voters outsize influence. Their support for Trump follows a longer-term migration of non-college white women to the Republicans.23 The split among white voters between those with and without a college degree is a key dynamic to which we return in a later section. This section has shown that what was significant about the “women’s vote” in 2016 was the extent to which it came down to these divisions of race and educational attainment.
Clinton won among women nationally by 12 points; Trump won among men by about the same margin.
Around 95 percent of African American women supported Clinton.
However, Trump won more of the votes of white women than Clinton did, and carried as much as 62 percent of votes cast by white women who do not hold a college degree.
- 14. See Alec Tyson and Shiva Maniam, “Behind Trump’s victory: Divisions by race, gender, education,” Pew Research Center, November 9, 2016.
- 15. In 2008, unmarried women supported Obama at the historically high rate of 70 percent according to exit polls. In 2012, they supported President Obama 67-31 over Mitt Romney.
- 16. In fact, unmarried women only narrowly increased their vote share since 2012. According to Census Bureau estimates, 41.8 million of the women who reported voting in the 2016 election were currently married, 24.9 million were divorced or had never been married, and the remaining 7 million were widowed. See United States Census Bureau, “Voting and Registration in the Election of November 2016,” Table 9.
- 17. These rates of participation for married and unmarried women are essentially unchanged since 2012.
- 18. Jane Junn, “The Trump majority: white womanhood and the making of female voters in the U.S.,” Politics, Groups, and Identities, Vol. 5, pp. 343-352 (2017).
- 19. There are no doubt multiple causes for this discrepancy, but the disenfranchisement of Black and Latino men via mass incarceration is surely a significant one. See Uggen et al., 6 Million Lost Voters.
- 20. See Clare Foran, “Women Aren’t Responsible for Hillary Clinton’s Defeat,” The Atlantic, November 13, 2016; and Tara Golshan, “The women who helped Donald Trump win,” Vox, January 21, 2017.
- 21. Pavielle Haines, “Why the Trump Tape Didn’t Matter: White Women in the 2016 Presidential Election,” Paper presented at the American Political Science Association (APSA) Annual Meeting, San Francisco, CA, September 2017. This analysis was carried out using data from the American National Election Study (ANES).
- 22. In 2012, Mitt Romney won this demographic 52-46. It bears noting that in two other national post-election voter samples – the American National Election Studies (ANES) and the Cooperative Congressional Election Study (CCES) – Clinton won white women with college degrees by larger margins.
- 23. See Clare Malone, “Clinton couldn’t win over white women,” FiveThirtyEight, November 9, 2016; Lois Beckett, Rory Carroll, Carmen Fishwick, and Sam Thielman, “The real ‘shy Trump’ vote: how 53% of white women pushed him to victory,” The Guardian, November 10, 2016; and Golshan, “The women who helped Donald Trump win.”