The NBC headline read, “Why Trump Must Make Gains Among Women Voters to Win the White House,” which brought to mind two things: First, native speakers of English, including professional writers, remain confused about when to use “women” (noun) and when to use “female” (adjective).
Second, O. J. Simpson was guilty.
Of course Donald Trump is doing poorly with female voters. Trump is a man who, despite his vast inherited wealth and celebrity, is so insecure in his relations with women that he invented an imaginary friend to lie to reporters about his love life (Carla Bruni? Sure, Donald) and set up a modeling agency to import a dating pool. His first wife accused him, in formal legal proceedings, of raping her, and he boasted of sharing with his buddy Jeffrey Epstein — of “Pedophile Island” fame, now a registered sex offender – a taste for women “on the younger side.” He’s a Class A weirdo and a creep.
Mrs. Clinton is a Class A weirdo and a creep of a different sort. And, just as Trump does poorly with female voters, Mrs. Clinton does poorly with male voters. In a CNN poll, Clinton beat Trump among women 62 percent to 34 percent; Trump beat Clinton among men 54 percent to 41 percent. That same poll found that in the early Democratic-primary states, Clinton’s overperformance with women/underperformance with men widened over 2008, going from a 7.5 percent difference to a 10.5 percent difference.
Democrats have won the female vote in every presidential election from 1992 forward; Republicans have won the male vote in every election from 1968 forward. Even in the landslide Republican victory in 1988, President George H. W. Bush carried women by only 4 points. In 1984, it was Morning in America, but Reagan carried women by only 55–45, compared to his 64–36 margin with men.
This isn’t explained by the so-called women’s issues, a term that largely functions as a euphemism for abortion regulation. As my colleague Ramesh Ponnuru has shown, sex correlates only loosely with having liberal views on abortion, and views on abortion correlate only loosely with voting. There isn’t very much evidence at all that abortion is what drives women’s preference for Democratic presidential candidates.
The “women’s issues” error is a version of the plantation fallacy, the belief among some conservatives that black voters prefer the Democratic party because they are more likely to have low incomes and therefore prefer the party that is more enthusiastic about welfare programs for low-income people. But that isn’t true, either: African Americans’ preference for the Democratic party is strong even among those voters who have a low view of our welfare system, and, perhaps more tellingly, identification with the Democratic party and preference for progressive policies increases slightly as black voters’ incomes increase. The strongest African-American support for the Democratic party and the welfare policies associated with it is found among the high-income voters least likely to ever take recourse to such programs.
In fact, the evidence suggests that voter self-interest is a weak force when it comes to party identification and candidate preferences. The high-income voters who would most benefit from Republican preferences for lower personal and corporate taxes do not lean strongly Republican, and do not lean any more Republican than their middle-income counterparts. No Republican presidential candidate has won the black vote since Herbert Hoover (black voters embraced the Democratic party a generation before Lyndon Johnson got religion on civil rights), and as African Americans’ incomes have risen, their identification with the Democratic party has deepened rather than the opposite.
Likewise, no Democratic presidential candidate has won the white vote since the 1960s. All that happy talk about a new era of racial unity in the age of Barack Obama is hogwash: White Americans voted for John McCain and Mitt Romney, with the latter winning nearly 60 percent of the white vote. As Jon Weiner pointed out in The Nation, Romney enjoyed an absolute blockbuster in the white election, winning every state save Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Iowa. In terms of states, Romney did better against Obama than Johnson did against Goldwater in 1964, an election that was heralded as the ruination of the Republican party. Even Jimmy Carter managed to carry six states plus the District of Columbia in 1980.
#share#As I argue at some length in a recent edition of National Review, ideas, issues, ideology, and philosophy do not really matter very much when it comes to short-term politics, in which voter behavior is dominated by political loyalties typically acquired in the home early in life. That is not to say these loyalties are immutable: There was a time when black voters overwhelmingly preferred the party of Lincoln (it took the disaster of the Great Depression and the New Deal to change that) and when women were in lockstep with the party of Herbert Hoover. (In a letter to Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the great civil-rights leader Susan B. Anthony boasted that she had “positively voted the Republican ticket — strait.”) There was a time when low-income whites in the South were loyal Democrats.
The usual story told to explain these realignments is one that flatters Democrats (all the mean meanies in the South jumped ship, as one white man, after LBJ came out for civil rights), but that isn’t really true. In fact, the United States is not unusual; women and members of minority groups do not tend to identify strongly with conservative parties in most countries, and the GOP is a much more conservative party today than it was in Nelson Rockefeller’s day. That was a long time coming, and if you look at the preferences of black and white voters both, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the New Deal, which set the parties on their respective paths of polarization, was the most important event. Black voters flipped very quickly (they’ve voted Democratic from Franklin Roosevelt on and abandoned the GOP in congressional elections in the 1940s), while white voters in the South did not really go Republican until the midterm election of 1994.
And 1994 was a funny year for race in these United States. The O. J. Simpson trial got under way that year, and a year later white Americans were looking at their black neighbors and wondering what the hell they could be thinking, so clearly guilty was the man. Black Americans considering Newt Gingrich, sworn in as speaker nine months before Simpson was acquitted, probably were asking a very similar question about their white neighbors.
We Americans are an individualistic people (what a funny thing to write), and that is to be celebrated, but we also are members of families, professions, communities, and races and sexes, too. White Americans sometimes complain that black Americans, not a living one of whom lived under slavery, need to let go of the past. In a few years, there will be a variation on that theme: “No American living today suffered under Jim Crow.” There are not very many women alive who knew a time when American women were not permitted to vote. There will come a day when no living American Jew remembers when numerus clausus kept Jews out of the Ivy League. But the things that happened to us are not the only things we remember.
It is fairly easy for me to imagine why women would not be eager to vote for Donald Trump. (Indeed, it is very difficult for me to imagine why a man would vote for him.) It is less easy to consider what the Democratic party, both its policies and its personnel, has done to places such as the South Bronx and Philadelphia (and, Lord have mercy, Detroit) and understand why black Americans at large — and the black Americans in those cities! — continue pulling the “D” lever.
#related#Part of the value of an education in literature is the exercise one gets imagining life inside the experiences of someone utterly alien, completely different from oneself. But never mind the Count of Monte Cristo. Vibe, a hip-hop magazine, used to inhabit the same building as National Review, a few floors down. There was rarely any question about who was going to which floor. My next-door neighbor in New York was a young black man — and a libertarian who read Lysander Spooner and cohosted a Fox Business program. Even when we inhabit the same space (literally and intellectually), there is a distance there, one that may not be, in the end, bridgeable.
I do not like to make predictions about elections, but I’ll make an exception — two, in fact: First: In November, white men mostly will vote for the Republican, while other people mostly won’t. Second: There will be many very detailed explanations of why that happened, and they will be mostly wrong.