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Why didn’t more women vote for Hillary Clinton?

Hillary Clinton was confidently predicted to ‘crack the country’s highest glass ceiling once and for all.’ In Rochester, New York women queued up to put tokens on the grave of Susan B. Anthony, the nineteenth century suffragist and architect of the 19th amendment to the US constitution which gave federal voting rights to woman in 1920 (they had been voting in territories and states since 1869).

Well, Tuesday’s election certainly saw a breakthrough but it wasn’t for Clinton and it wasn’t based on gender, despite confident predictions that women or men were going to swing the vote for either candidate

If gender was going to be the determining factor, this was the election where it should happen. Clinton was a respectable public servant, wife and mother. Trump was the epitome of swaggering masculinity, bragging in an Access Hollywood bus of the most gross expressions of gendered bad behaviour. No one, male or female, minimised this. But the expectation that it would create a political earthquake and shame him out of the race was utterly wrong. In fact, his ability to ride through and surmount this and other proofs of his personal failings made him a stronger candidate. This should have been no surprise. In the 1990s when moralists were out for Bill Clinton’s blood because of his failings as a husband, his poll ratings stayed high. This was a president under whom there was prosperity at home and peace abroad, voters male and female could tell the difference between personal behaviour and politics.

It was not a new lesson: Grover Cleveland in the unforgiving nineteenth century produced a child out of wedlock while in the White House but still went on to win a second term – and, indeed, to be the only president in history to win two non-consecutive terms, despite his opponents’ jeers of ‘Ma, ma, where’s my pa?’

Hillary Clinton, by Gage Skidmore. CC BY SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

The campaign for women’s votes tells us the paradoxical truth that in politics, gender doesn’t matter. In 1893 Colorado’s men voted for women’s suffrage in a referendum despite the predicted crisis of masculinity warned of by the opponents of ‘petticoat government.’ Disaster failed to arrive, but neither did the period of harmony and social justice promised by the proponents of women’s voting. A taste of the future was remarked on by Federal Judge Moses Hallett: ‘the presence of women at the polls has only augmented the total votes, it has worked no radical changes. It has produced no special reforms, and it has had no particularly purifying effect on politics.’ A woman reporter from the San Francisco Examiner who went to Colorado to report on the supposedly monumental changes wrought by this gender revolution lamented, ‘we women have found out that our politics are just as corrupt as men’s politics, they are just a little bit trickier if anything.’

This last comment brings to mind the anonymous Republican grandee’s comment on Hillary Clinton: ‘Whoever you are, she’s smarter than you, and meaner than you.’ That’s a comment about a person, not about gender. What was true of women’s voting has also been true of women’s participation in politics. Men and women politicians have identically peddled the same rhetoric, and risen and fallen by it. Hillary Clinton did not fail because she was too radically female, but because she was too conventionally part of a political establishment that had become despised.

What we saw in the electoral contest, despite the media’s incessant personalisation of the contest, was a genuine battle of priorities in which Hillary Clinton the experienced politician lost every time. Trump talked about fears over immigration, the broken economy, a putrid political class and America’s over-engagement in military adventures abroad. Clinton offered more of the same. Women voted on the issues, and non-college educated women, whose jobs are most threatened by globalisation (as are those of non-college educated men), notably supported Trump. There is ample room to say voters were misled and Trump cannot deliver what he promised, but that would apply to male and female voters. They made their choices on the issues put before them.

Cracking glass ceilings is an attractive goal for elite women, but if they want to bring less privileged women (and men) along to accomplish this task, they need to address their real concerns.

Recent Comments

  1. meh

    Really, gender doesn’t matter?

  2. meh

    Really, gender doesn’t matter? That argument reveals a lack of understanding of the ways in which race, class, and other classifications of difference under which inequalities materialize, including gender. To say “That’s a comment about a person, not about gender,” is simply false; it is a gendered (and raced and classed) understanding of the category of woman. Gender certainly isn’t the whole story here, and indeed it never is. Discourse doesn’t need to be overtly “about” something to be about it. A refusal to acknowledge that and to deny gender politics is not just a misunderstanding of history and current politics, but forecloses any possibility of upending systemic oppression that relies upon such neat classifications of difference.

  3. Lurlie Mahaffey

    Men trying to analyze women is absurd. Hillary never set out to court women because women rarely support women. If he were a woman he would know that. Women are multi-dimensional and often,in no particular order, will view themselves as wife, mother, religion, race and political affiliation. Rarely do they see themselves first as just a “woman.” I voted for Hillary because I do see myself first as a woman.

  4. ed swiatkowski

    What a breath of fresh, unpolluted air. Eloquently stated and precise.
    You have made my day….maybe year.

  5. D McCulloch

    I concur with this writer. Women and men care about what matters to them, their families, and their lives. If the person running for a political position does not consider the needs of all people at all levels of socio-economic wealth then they will not be elected. Most voters are lied to – but they hold out hope for change. As humans most people want to take care of their own and then maybe they’ll have the energy to think about others. The politics of fear works because we are working hard to make ends meet, already. I wish my American friends “thoughtful minds led by open hearts” in the months and years ahead.

  6. dddj

    Exit polling are terrible indicators of how a person really voted or feels, especially in this day and age. The more accurate indicator is combining exit polling with Social Media data.

    I’m continually shocked at the social media posts and comments from women who live in my “blue” area of the state. These are people who are well educated, professional, earning a good living. They will never tell you to your face their racist or homophobic opinions, but on social media or in the privacy of a voting booth it all comes out.

    The recent prodding of our “leaders” to go against political correctness has lead to a duality in the public. In social and professional settings people express what is culturally acceptable, but in private they think dropping what is politically correct is license for racist, discriminatory behavior.

    If this country heads down the path of Trump and “anti-political correctness” I think in future elections we’ll need to examine a wider data set than just exit polling to get a pulse of the nation.

  7. S. Moran

    Comey; fake news that promoted over and over that she was not trustworthy and made many false accusations against her; churches and evangelicals that also spread lies about her and attacked her pro-choice position; major media that reported over and over and over and over and over that she was one of the most unpopular candidates ever and that she wasn’t trustworthy; major media that over stated over and over and over and over the email “controversy” that in fact amounted to nothing except the overblown case they made it to be. Major media complicity with right-wing fake news, including the fake book about the Clinton Foundation that even the author admitted was not based on facts, just conjecture. In my view, the biggest factor with women was the evangelicals.

  8. Maggie McNeill

    Gender was not a factor in my decision. Sorry, could not vote for the office of the President of the United States anyone as corrupt and deceitful as Hillary Clinton.

    She was so flawed a candidate that I could not get past her felonies. WHY was she allowed to be a candidate in the first place!? The DNC is as corrupt as they did not properly vet her.

  9. Linda

    Women have never been pro-women. They allow themselves to be gullible and easily led. So, they’re male chauvinist pigs.

  10. Carl Karasti

    Yes a candidate for president needs to address the real concerns of the voters, both women and men. And there were two main-party candidates who offered to do this during the primaries. Unfortunately, the un-Democratic Party didn’t play fair and they denied Bernie Sanders any real chance of getting on the ticket. That meant that anti-Establishment voters were left with Trump or with 3rd party candidates who also didn’t stand a chance. Clinton lost, not because she is a woman, but because she is staunchly Establishment. This was not an election cycle for an Establishment candidate. So, Clinton and we Liberals lost to Trump because of the Establishment’s greedy collusion that was focused on a futile attempt to break a glass ceiling. The real concern of most of We the People was to break the death grip of the Establishment on our government, our political process, our economy, our society. Trump won because enough people believed he would break that death grip. Whether he actually will or not remains to be seen. And it also remains to be seen how much damage he will do to us, to our country and to the World in the process. (No, I did not support DT.)

  11. dkmich

    You can’t be serious. How important is being a woman when compared to being honest and trustworthy, the environment, income inequality, affordable healthcare, students in debts, and stopping the wars?

  12. Kate DeWitt

    Abortion. Many Christian women are extremely pro-life. I believe that’s a huge contributor.

  13. Robert Snyder

    I believe that women who value themselves as individuals, in general voted for Hillary. Women of certain socioeconomic and religious backgrounds do not always value themselves as they should. Also, sexism is not dead. Instead of a diverse and varied cabinet, we’re apparently going to get a bunch of angry old white men.

  14. Anne Brady

    Women rarely support other women. They seem to feel they’re competition. Gender was only part of the reason I voted for Hillary. I also believe in what she stands for as nd had policies and again e nada and had a plan on hoe to achieve them.

  15. Paula

    I have never liked her. Not when she belittled stay-at-home moms, not when she did not divorce Bill over and over, not when she claimed to be under sniper fire on the tarmac and especially not when she set up her own server and expects us to think she saw no problem with doing so. I did not vote for her, but if I lived in a state where it would have mattered I would have deemed her the lessor evil. I wish she had not corrupted her talent.

  16. Martha smith

    I voted for Hillary because she gave me hope for the future of our nation.While talking with someone in my family he said Hillary had no content in her message.Maybe he had his ears closed.Also she had to defend herself so much maybe her message was lost ?

  17. Julie K.

    I think the single issue women voters i.e. anti– abortion were part of this group. I also wonder if some women voted for Trump because their husband’s voted for him. I call it the “Stand by your man” Tammy Wynette effect. (a song)
    I could guess that some women might be intimidated or dare I say scared to vote opposite their husbands.
    Another group of women identify with misogyny as their reality and go along with it. It’s a way to protect yourself if you are part of the group that views misogyny as not a big deal.

  18. Rex

    Nope, Nope, Nope. It had something to do with gender; please pick up an intro psych book or women studies book. Women can be just as sexist towards women (sometimes more so) as men.

  19. Mikell Perry

    Women are hard on women. Beyond that, what we saw during the election is that many women won’t stray from the positions taken by their men. Women are peacekeepers and they do not rock the boat when it comes to politics, religion, sees, or what they eat for dinner. And they defend their men, regardles. This is why women still endure violence, sexual aggression, and turn a “blind eye” to their men’s transgressions. BRAVO to those women, and men, who have broken these chains of oppression. More will. It will take higher paying jobs for women that will allowed them to support themselves and their families. It will take education that recognizes their worth. And it will take a society that doesn’t erect barriers in a woman’s daily life.

  20. Elizabeth Klarich

    Voter suppression was a big issue in key battleground states. Women are part of the marginalized demographics that were suppressed from being able to cast their vote. Women who are anti-abortion voted against HRC even though it meant ignoring the sexual predator issues and a multitude of other serious concerns with DJT. Some Christian women have been brainwashed to fear Muslims & LGBTQ and believe their religious rights are being threatened by HRC’s Democratic platform of embracing diversity. Some women are not able to accept a woman as President; it’s a man’s job according to their backward value system. Some women let the fear-mongering of DJT and the alt-right media convince them that HRC is “corrupt”. Some women are unaware, uneducated and lack critical thinking skills. Some women are die-hard Republicans and believe that voting a straight GOP ticket is the only right thing to do no matter who’s name is in front of the “R”. Some women were sick of a black man in the white house and sure as heck didn’t want that followed by a woman. Men are also in all of these described categories. I am a 61 year old woman who is not in any of these categories; I am a feminist, progressive, liberal who believes we need to get money out of politics and that we must fight for environmental protection and social & wealth equality . I voted for Sanders in the primary and Hillary in the general election. I will actively work to support the causes that Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren continue to fight for.

  21. Lisa Kato

    The gender “issue” is a non-starter and a red herring. *This* woman didn’t vote for Clinton because she represents the culmination of years of Democratic Party abandoning the people it claimed to represent, and selling its soul to corporate sponsors. From the beginning, she side-stepped every major issue that mattered: Single Payer Healthcare, student debt, and stimulating the economy through New Deal jobs and infrastructure investment. During the Primaries, when election irregularities and evidence of malfeasance mounted up in no less than 12 states, Clinton did not demand an investigation, in effect giving the impression of being complicit in election fraud. The security lapses of having sensitive national security information on a private server cannot just be waved off. Other people are currently in jail for the very same thing. So why does Clinton get a pass??

  22. Patti

    In voting for Hillary Clinton I was voting against Donal Trump.

  23. Patti

    I would have voted for Bernie Sanders & voted for Hillary to vote against Trump.

  24. Lucia

    1. The expectation is that because women are women they should automatically vote for a female candidate. That’s like expecting all Black voters to vote for a Black candidate. 2. Perhaps, more often than we expect, women have accepted the culture of misogyny. They work against other women who try to breakout of stereotypical limits.

  25. Kathleen Kendrick

    I don’t share much with her. I voted for her because I wanted to defeat Trump. But I don’t like her being buddies with Wall Street, Kissinger, etc. I don’t like how hawkish she is. She would have been a continuation of neo-liberalism, whose time has passed. She didn’t really talk about things that mattered. Everything Bernie Sanders addressed was important to me/our country. I am a human being first, who happens to be a woman.

  26. DeniseinAz

    Sad to say but…. Women generally dislike other women. And they especially dislike women in positions of authority. I’m not sure if education makes a difference. A lot of women are nasty to each other, especially behind their back.

  27. Cecelia Frontero

    Women are capable of making decisions based on policy and record. Gender notwithstanding.

  28. J Buckwald

    There are SO many women who voted for Hillary in 2008, and we voted for her this month. In 2012, I voted for Cynthia McKinney (Green). California has 2 women senators who are arguably the best there are. I vote for women who are smart, not worried about playing to men. Hillary does not apologize about her intelligence, and that makes her a target for some men who think women should do as we were told to do when we were younger — pretend that we aren’t better than the boys. My mother would probably not have voted for her, tho she wouldn’t have voted for her opponent, either. She would say that Hillary Rodham Clinton was ‘one of those kinds of women’, the same way she saw me, her daughter. Women who have been taught to lower themselves so as not to be ‘threatening’ to men do not want to see other women in their power. Too bad, because we all lose. Men, women, boys, girls, all of us.

  29. Kenn Beck

    “Respectable public servant, wife and mother.”

    The last two don’t matter in politics, and the first one is an out-and-out lie. This is why she lost: because her supporters are blind to the fact that she is corrupt to the bone. They ignore the lies under oath, the stolen furniture from the White House in 2000, the email server done solely for personal convenience that put our country at risk, the poor decision making, the selling of political influence and access, and the fact that over 40 people who had the potential to derail her family’s political ascension have ended up dead of mysterious circumstances, and instead focused on things like “well, Donald Trump is a pig, and his followers are deplorable,” and “Beyonce supports her” as their political battle cries. The Democratic National Convention shoved her down their own supporters throats, despite the fact that she was losing the popular vote in the primaries, and dares to wonder why more people didn’t just smile and take it? Pathetic. It wasn’t misogyny, it wasn’t racism, it wasn’t homophobia. It was the fact that Clinton is a corrupt criminal, and offered no palpable change from the disappointing Obama administration.

  30. Marty

    I suppose we’ve arrived right where the bus was heading since about the mid 1960s … we are supposed to be color-blind and gender neutral, right? So perhaps we are … but more likely Hillary represents that woman we women have all known, roomed with, were taught by or worked for. We didn’t like that woman and we don’t like Hillary. That’s basically it.

  31. alex

    just reading all of these comments reveals exactly how gendered our interpretations of politics are, even as we deny it

  32. Ken

    “I believe that women who value themselves as individuals, in general voted for Hillary. Women of certain socioeconomic and religious backgrounds do not always value themselves as they should. Also, sexism is not dead. Instead of a diverse and varied cabinet, we’re apparently going to get a bunch of angry old white men.”

    I am glad there are people out there who are not just about ME ME ME ME ME ME and ME. Sexism is a two way street. Hillary did not court the male vote and there are actually women out there who do not hate men.

  33. Yaffa

    This article may have been more interesting if the author could have have truthfully asked the question, “Why do White Women vote against their own best interests?”

    94% of Black Women voted for HRC, whereas, 53% of White Women voted for Trump. In Alabama, for the Senate, 98% of Black Women voted for the Democrat candidate Doug Jones, compared to 63% of white women that voted for the, “alleged” pedophille Republican Roy More.

    The real discussion should be about the racial disparity in the way women vote & answering, “The Why?” (I surely would like to know!).

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