It is true that Clinton did not win a majority of white women voters; Trump did, with 53 percent support. But a closer look at the data, and historical context, suggests that far from failing to convert white women to her cause, Clinton actually succeeded in winning the votes of at least some white women for whom support for the Democratic candidate in the election was never a given.
According to Pew Research data, most women identify as Democrats, but white women are more likely than not to identify as Republican. That suggests that white women did not abandon Clinton, since many were likely to vote for the Republican candidate regardless of who ended up as the nominee for either party. Yet even so, Clinton still managed to win 51 percent of college-educated white women to Trump’s 45 percent—a partisan reversal from the 2012 election when then-Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney won 52 percent of college-educated white women while Barack Obama won 46 percent.
Clinton lost non-college-educated white women, winning only 34 percent to Trump’s 62 percent. But that data point requires context as well. In a post-election analysis titled “No, women didn’t abandon Clinton, nor did she fail to win their support,” Dittmar points out that loyalty to the Republican Party has intensified among that portion of the electorate. “Among white women without a college degree, Republican party identification has grown over the past 24 years,” she writes. “With this knowledge, it’s far less surprising that Trump outperformed Clinton among this demographic. Party identification is the key indicator of vote choice, and there is no evidence that gender affinity would buck that trend.”
The split among white women may also highlight the potential power and limitations of Clinton’s historic bid to become the first woman president. The fact that she won college-educated white women while losing white women without a college degree suggests that her campaign had more success winning over Republican-leaning women who fit a similar demographic profile to the candidate herself: white, highly-educated, and affluent.
Anecdotal evidence supports the idea that Clinton’s candidacy resonated strongly with women who saw themselves in her, and who viewed the presidential race through a personal as well as a political lens. Ahead of the election, my colleague Nora Kelly reported on the efforts of high-powered Washington women getting out the vote for Clinton, and noted the following dynamic:
[F]or many of the women I talked to Wednesday—the government workers, think-tankers, and nonprofit employees—Clinton isn’t just an aspirational figure, though she’s that, too. Rather, they seemed to see Clinton in the late days of the campaign as something of an avatar, a living representation of their own daily striving against a culture and a professional world that privileges men. When they watch her face “Trump That Bitch” t-shirts, suggestions that she is too frail or weak to assume the presidency, and other examples of blatant sexism, they recall their own, similar experiences. And when they see her succeed, it’s edifying.
That doesn’t mean that gender was necessarily a deciding factor in how women decided to vote. Pew Research data shows that women and men prioritized many of the same issues during the election, including concerns over the economy, terrorism, and health care. But rather than thinking about gender as a separate issue that voters either care or do not care about, or assign a level of importance somewhere on a scale of priorities, it may be more useful to consider gender norms and ideals as inextricably intertwined with economic and social realities.