Ethics & Public Policy Center

The Left Doesn’t Understand Women

Published in National Review Online on November 5, 2020

Exit polls from Edison Research for the National Election Pool provide some interesting data on how American women voted this election cycle — and the results are sure to anger progressives.

The numbers available at the moment are just preliminary estimates from voter surveys conducted at polling places and early voting sites, as well as on the phone to account for mail-in voting. Though perhaps we should add a sizable asterisk to our discussion of exit polling, considering how inaccurate most surveys of this election cycle turned out to be, a few demographic statistics should inform how we understand the outcome of race and our political future.

The overall electorate this cycle consisted of more women (53 percent) than men (47 percent). Men split slightly for Trump, 49-48 percent, while most women backed Biden (56-43 percent). Those divides were intensified when the results are broken down by race. White men favored Trump by an 18-point gap, and white women supported him by a margin of twelve points. The president received the support of just 18 percent of black men and 8 percent of black women.

Though Biden still beat Trump among women and black voters, it’s worth noting that the president gained support in every category of voters other than white men. More white women, black men and women, and Latino men and women supported Trump this year than had supported him in 2020.

Perhaps more interesting than Trump’s tightening of the race and gender gaps, however, is the way voters split depending on whether they are married. Fifty-six percent of all voters said they are married, while 44 percent are not. Among married voters, Trump had a ten-point advantage: A majority (54 percent) voted for the president, and 44 percent backed Biden. Unmarried voters, meanwhile, broke even more heavily for Biden. Only 40 percent supported Trump while 57 percent voted for Biden.

But the voting patterns of married vs. unmarried voters get even more interesting when broken down by gender. Fifty-three percent of married men, who accounted for a little less than a third of all voters, supported Trump, while 46 percent supported Biden. Unmarried men, who accounted for just one-fifth of the electorate, favored Biden by a smaller margin, 50 percent to Trump’s 44 percent.

The disparity between married and unmarried women was even stronger. Married women and unmarried women each accounted for about one-quarter of those who voted in this election. Married women broke hard for Trump, with 55 percent backing him compared with 42 percent who backed Biden. And there was an even larger gap among unmarried women, 62 percent of whom supported the Democrat compared with 37 percent who supported Trump.

In other words, studying support for Trump and Biden through the lens of marriage and gender revealed that the president’s strongest demographic was married women while Biden’s was unmarried women.

The numbers already are provoking a predictable, angry reaction from progressives. In 2018, when women — especially white women — backed Republican candidates in Senate and gubernatorial races, one of the key narratives that emerged on the Left was to call such women traitors. Here are some examples of this phenomenon that I collected for a piece at the time:

Feminists raced to label white women “footsoldiers of the patriarchy,” and left-wing pundits piled on. White female progressives didn’t feel the need to defend their own: “White women we are so gross it’s f***ing embarrassing and we need to f***ing stop,” one feminist warrior tweeted.

Rolling Stone writer Jamil Smith lamented white women’s betrayal, wondering “when they will understand the damage that they do, and not just to themselves.” Others helpfully pointed out that white women who support conservatives can’t really be blamed — after all, in many parts of the country, helpless, backwards females are still in thrall to their misogynistic husbands, who force them to vote Republican.

Though it appears likely as of this writing that Biden will manage to eke out a victory, we’re unlikely to escape a similar identity-politics backlash against Americans who didn’t vote for him. In fact, we’re seeing it already, directed primarily at non-white voters who supposedly betrayed the Left and joined the oppressors by voting Republican.

Instead of attempting to insult and berate noncompliant voters into submission, Democrats might consider attempting to defend their increasingly radical agenda or at least acknowledging that it turns off a huge number of Americans who are neither racists nor gender traitors. Consider just a few reasons — more plausible than the conspiratorial notion that they were coerced by their husbands into doing so — why more married women may have chosen to vote for Trump rather than Biden.

On school choice, an important issue for American families of all races and creeds, the Trump administration has promoted policies to expand access to a wider variety of schooling options. Among other policies, the Education Department has favored a federal tax-credit scholarship program, modeled after state versions that have been highly successful and popular with voters.

Biden and his running mate Kamala Harris, by contrast, are locked in a tight embrace with teachers’ unions and show no indication of being willing to abandon the easily disproven Democratic theory that greater school choice would be harmful to minority Americans.

Similarly, the Trump administration and the GOP writ large have been far more supportive than Biden and the Democrats of encouraging and enabling American children to get back into classrooms in a safe way as the pandemic continues, another serious concern for American families at the moment.

Married women are also far more likely than unmarried women to be repelled by the Democratic Party’s increasingly radical stance on social issues such as abortion on demand and the privacy rights of women and girls. Though the Democratic ticket’s support for unlimited abortion and the Equality Act might well have been a large part of why unmarried women broke so strongly for Biden, it surely fueled conservative willingness to turn out for Trump.

Finally, it is not unimaginable that the harsh treatment Amy Coney Barrett received from progressive activists and media outlets, especially commentary targeting her motherhood and her children, may have encouraged some married women to vote against Democrats, including Biden.

Exit polls don’t tell the full story of why an election might have gone the way it did, but Democrats evidently will need a new strategy for appealing to a huge subset of American women other than dismissing their political views as being the fruit of internalized sexism or their inability to think independently from their husbands.

Alexandra DeSanctis is a staff writer for National Review and a visiting fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

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