Bonnie Dow. The Tennessean. January 5, 2017.
Amid all of the Election Day postmortems, one question has been repeatedly posed to me as someone who works with an organization that funds women candidates: what happened to the women who were going to elect Hillary Clinton our first woman president?
But it was men who surged to the right to defeat Hillary Clinton. Women voted Democratic in 2016 at about the same rate as in 2012, while Donald Trump got men’s votes by a margin 5 points wider than Mitt Romney’s in 2012.
Trump also brought out Republican voters who did not vote in 2012. Democratic turnout was about the same.
Although, of course, Clinton did win the popular vote.
To say that women — white women, really, since 94 percent of black women voted Democratic — are responsible for Clinton’s Electoral College defeat is to say that Republican women in key states might have deserted their party to vote for her. Or that Democratic women in key states might have turned out in greater numbers than in 2012.
Why did we think they might? Because of Trump’s reprehensible treatment of women and by his hard right stance on various social issues that women traditionally care about more than men. And we thought they might be inspired by the possibility of the first woman president.
But now we know that that did not happen, or not enough to make a difference. And that Trump’s message of economic populism, his appeal to “forgotten men and women” who thirsted for change, resonated more than his character issues. It resonated more than Hillary Clinton’s gender, too.
In the 2016 election, Clinton was functionally the incumbent, the establishment candidate. She was endorsed by President Obama and had served in his administration. Donald Trump, on the other hand, will be the first president since Herbert Hoover who was elected without experience in either elected office or military service.
What does this mean for the future? It does not mean that there is no point in appealing to women as a set of voters with distinct interests. Research shows that women do care more about health care, child care, family leave, and reproductive health, including birth control access.
But Democrats could do more at talking about those issues as economic issues that affect families, and that means men too. Nearly 50 percent of U.S. women are primary wage earners for their families or equal wage-earners with their partners.
For women, controlling their fertility and having access to good health care, safe child care, and family leave make a crucial difference in their families’ economic fate. And the working class men whose votes were decisive in this election are more likely to be married to women whose income is crucial to their families’ survival.
“Women’s issues” are really family-friendly economic policies. As we move forward, Democrats up and down the ballot and across the nation need to figure out how to make that case, and, most importantly, how to get both men and women on board.
Bonnie Dow is a co-founder and treasurer of Women for Tennessee’s Future, a political action committee that funds female candidates.