Gender Trumped by Race and Religion in 2016 Election


November 11, 2016 by Shareen Joshi

If there was ever a moment in history where gender could determine the outcome of a major election, this was it. Americans were given the opportunity to crack the highest glass ceiling in the world. They were faced with two candidates that stood for very different models of gender relations. Clinton was the experienced public-servant who was also a wife, mother and grandmother. Trump was the rich beauty-contest owner who publicly admitted to predatory gendered behavior and belittled women whose intelligence, achievements or age made them ineligible for his own narrow sexual interests. He didn’t even spare his daughter, referring to her anatomy in offensive ways on a public radio show.

Exit polls suggest that nobody found Trump’s attitudes acceptable. Yet the widely held expectation among pollsters, of a tide of unity favoring Hillary, proved wrong. Women were not the swing vote. Clinton barely got half of the female vote, winning 54-42%. This is worse than in 2012, when President Obama won among women 55%-44%.

Is this unprecedented? No. Let’s remember that in the 1990s, while Bill Clinton dealt with the aftermath of his scandals, his poll ratings stayed high, even among women. And another president, Grover Cleveland, went on to win a second term even after having a child out of wedlock, becoming the only president in history to win two non-consecutive terms.

It doesn’t surprise me that gender isn’t ultimately a swing issue for most of the electorate. Issues related to economics, security and livelihoods loomed larger than gender in this election. And it didn’t help Clinton that she represented a class of people in society who have become increasingly despised. Gender wasn’t enough to override these disadvantages.

But while the lack of relevance of gender is unsurprising, what IS very surprising is the salience of other demographic variables in this election. In particular, race and religion. The data show that Hillary Clinton got the vote of only 39% of white women (58% for Trump), and 25% of self-identified evangelical voters. It was only the black sisterhood that turned out for Hillary, giving her a 94–4% victory in this group. In other words, almost every single black woman stood with Hillary, who could not be more socially distant from them in social, political and economic variables. This contrasts with fewer than half of white and evangelical women. The key moment when this rift became apparent, may have been in the third debate, when Hillary articulated her support for abortion rights. In the aftermath of this, religion and race trumped gender.

So it’s still all about demographics, but race and religion overshadow gender. Donald Trump’s brand of gender relations may be offensive, but other considerations are more important in the voting booth. This is astounding. I find myself wondering, if gender can become a non-issue in politics, why can’t race and religion? Isn’t this the whole point of becoming a wealthy, educated and first-world society?