The Corner


Are White Women Pressured to Vote Republican?

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the annual Hillary Rodham Clinton awards ceremony at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., February 5, 2018 (Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters)

Pontificating on her loss to Trump among white women, Hillary Clinton had this to say:

[Democrats] do not do well with white men, and we don’t do well with married, white women. And part of that is an identification with the Republican Party, and a sort of ongoing pressure to vote the way that your husband, your boss, your son, whoever, believes you should.

Well, the Washington Post is here to tell you that “studies suggest that Clinton may not be wrong.” That’s true, I guess, but it’s quite different from suggesting she’s right in any way that matters.

To be sure, it wouldn’t shock me if married couples tended to become more alike politically as time goes on; my wife and I have dragged each other to the center considerably since we started dating in 2003, though at the end of the day I still almost always vote Republican and she almost always votes Democrat. Of course it’s also possible that more conservative women are more likely to get married, or that women’s interests change in the context of marriage, as well.

But Clinton suggests something more insidious is at work — and in order for this phenomenon to have any bearing on election outcomes, or to be troubling in any way whatsoever, the effect would have to be stronger on women than it is on men. Maybe, but the Washington Post marshals essentially zero evidence that this is true.

Amongst much aimless bloviating, the piece discusses two studies. First up:

Oregon State University assistant professor Kelsy Kretschmer co-wrote a study examining women’s voting patterns. “We know white men are more conservative, so when you’re married to a white man you get a lot more pressure to vote consistent with that ideology,” she told the Guardian last year.

In the study published in Political Research Quarterly, Kretschmer and her co-authors wrote:

“Women consistently earn less money and hold less power, which fosters women’s economic dependency on men. Thus, it is within married women’s interests to support policies and politicians who protect their husbands and improve their status.”

This study looked only at women’s attitudes, so it doesn’t speak to the strength of a similar trend for men. And it looked at survey data from a single year, so it also can’t speak to whether women’s attitudes change after they marry, much less whether such a change happens in response to unseemly pressure from their husbands. All it does is compare women in the survey across marital status, race, etc.

It does show that married women are less likely to see their fate as tied to the fate of women in general, but even if getting married causes women to think this way, which isn’t demonstrated here, they’re probably just right. When you get married (and especially when you start a family), you start caring less about your own gender for the simple reason that your fate really is less tied to it — which is something we celebrate when, for instance, men say they want a more equal society for their daughters. The study also shows that the married/unmarried gap doesn’t exist for black women, and that it’s tied to political conservatism, both of which I suppose are mildly interesting.

So that one doesn’t help us too much regarding Clinton’s comment.

Next up:

A study from the Institute for Social and Economic Research reported that wives in general vote in ways that support their husband’s economic interests. And most men voted for Trump in 2016 with many citing his economic policies as a major factor as to why.

Here’s what the abstract of that study says, though (emphasis mine):

We regress men’s and women’s political party preferences on their own and their partners’ characteristics using data from the 1991 British Household Panel Survey (N =2,846). We find a symmetrical pattern of influence: Men and women both give greatest weight to their own political values but also accord some significant weight to their partners’ values. Economically dependent men, however, place virtually no emphasis on their partners’ political values. Apart from this, we suggest that there may be a process of mutual accommodation within couples regarding political preferences that leads to greater concordance in the partners’ preferences over time.

So it’s a survey conducted a generation ago, in a completely different country, and it found “mutual accommodation” between husbands and wives, except in cases where husbands are economically dependent. And in the paper, the authors explicitly reject a “dominance” theory in which the economic provider of the family exerts control over the other partner’s vote.

In the context of making bitter excuses for her loss, Clinton has advanced an interesting theory about political behavior. It’s a theory worth testing, but the Post has produced no evidence it’s actually true.


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