The 2016 Election: Sexism and the Failure of Men on the Left

On Tuesday night, Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton to become our 45th President. Trump won in the Electoral College and Clinton won the popular vote by a significant margin. Turnout was just shy of 130 million voters—almost identical to 2012— so Trump won despite a weak ground game and Clinton being heavily favored in state and national polls.

What the heck happened?

The short answer is that the polls were off because they assumed the Obama Coalition, the force of people of color/women, would more or less hold for Clinton. The Coalition did hold together for Democratic women but not men, which means that the polls were way off due to unexpected gender bias on the Left.


Gender scholars in political science have long identified a strong bias against female candidates due to the masculinity the office embodies and gender biases in media coverage that diminish female candidates such as more negative coverage, a focus on dress and appearance, and outright sexism. Clinton’s bid was the tenth time a woman ran for the office, and she was faced the same gender bias in media coverage as the previous nine, with the added layers of hyper-sexist new media and social media. Furthermore, because leadership is defined as masculine, female presidential candidates face a double-bind where if they follow the norms of leadership, they are seen as too aggressive, but if they act in ways that are expected of women, they are seen as weak, incompetent leaders.

It is no wonder, then, that 7% of Americans say they will not vote for a female presidential candidate, and 26% are “angry or upset” at the idea of a woman in the White House. Some Americans genuinely fear a female president.

Clinton faced some world class sexism in this election, but it was ignored by many on the Left because we tend to see sexism as being less prevalent or less important than other systems of oppression. But we don’t live in a post-sexist society, and much of the public dialogue about Clinton has been explicitly and implicitly sexist, starting with the primary.

Public dialogue about Clinton has been so sexist that many only see her as a caricature— a corrupt, conniving, shrill villain, instead of the staid person and candidate she is. The double standard is highlighted when we imagine the short life the faux email “scandal” would have had if Joe Biden were running, or how unsuitable a Clinton candidacy would be were she with her third husband; a husband who had violated U.S. immigration laws; on whom she had cheated; had she refused to release her tax returns; had 13 allegations of sexual assault; and joked that she likes to grab men by the dick without their consent. This election was anything but a fair race.

Given what we know about gender bias and the presidency, it is empirically absurd to project outcomes without taking latent sexism into account, which is what pollsters did. It is also absurd to talk about the outcome of an election with the first female candidate without discussing gender, which many analysts are now doing.

The Data

When it comes to gender, most women identify as Democrats, and this year saw the largest gender gap in history with a 12-point advantage for Clinton (see table below).


When it comes to race and gender, a majority of white women voted for Trump, while most women of color voted for Clinton (see table below).


This snapshot data, which many have reported on, is highly misleading when it comes to understanding what happened in the 2016 election. White women did not cause the election upset. They did not abandon Clinton. She actually succeeded in winning the vote of more white women – a 1% increase over 2012 (see table below). I am heartened that so many journalists have woken up to the fact that a majority of white women vote Republican for a variety of reasons (e.g., racism), but pollsters knew this and accounted for it in their projections.

This table does reveal an obvious pattern that explains the upset. With the exception of Latinas, women held their numbers in the Obama Coalition, while men in the Coalition broke to vote for Trump and third party candidates in surprising numbers. Overall, men’s support for the Democratic candidate dropped from 45% in 2012 to 41% in 2016, while women’s support held firm overall.

 Percentage of the Vote for the Democratic Candidate: 2012, 2016

2012 2016
White Men 35% 31%
White Women 42% 43%
Black Men 87% 80%
Black Women 96% 94%
Latino Men 65% 62%
Latino Women 76% 68%
Others 66% 61%

A 4% drop in support from men on the Left is significant. We are still waiting on state-by-state voter demographic information, but had men voted for Clinton in the same numbers as they voted for Obama in 2012 in key swing states, she would have won the election.

Other Factors

Other factors came into play in the election as well. We know that while voter suppression in the form of ID laws and a reduction in polling places demobilized votes on the Left. But experts disagree about whether it was enough to account for Clinton’s loss.

Racism accounts for Trump’s candidacy. Trump rose to political prominence hocking the racist birther lie. He is the answer to 8 years of a Black presidency. We know this from his rhetoric (he hasn’t been shy about it), the racism he encouraged at his rallies, and his appointment of alt-right hero Steve Bannon as his chief strategist. Research on Trump’s supporters finds that racial resentment, not economic anxiety, is the driver. Exit polls show that Trump voters were older, white, and well-off, and their primary concern was the deportation of immigrants.

But racism doesn’t explain the election upset in terms of numbers because it played a predictable, predicted role in the election. Trump’s support with whites looks similar to Romney’s support from this group in 2012.


A factor that did contribute to the upset is third party voting, but it is also likely a reflection of deep-seated gender bias. Nearly three times as many people voted third party in 2016 compared to 2012 (6.9 million compared to 2.4 million). This pattern only makes sense if there was a particularly charismatic third party candidate (there wasn’t) or both major party candidates were seen as equally awful. Throughout the campaign, Clinton and Trump were framed with false equivalency, aided by false balance in the press that simply would not have worked if Clinton were a man. Many Americans unconsciously dislike ambitious women, so it was easy to hyperbolically paint Clinton as a villain for mundane political trespasses.

Eleven days prior to the election, FBI Director James Comey reignited fears about Clinton’s emails with a bafflingly vague letter to Congress that possibly affected the outcome. Comey admitted there was nothing to the “scandal” two days prior to the election, but as Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway noted, “the damage is done.” Clinton’s polls dropped precipitously in the final week, and while we can’t know for sure whether the 13% of voters who were undecided the week before the election were influenced by the Comey letter, most of them broke for Trump. The margin of late deciders for Trump was especially large in the key states of Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Florida.


As noted above, the Clinton email story is not a real scandal, but it sustained the gendered #CrookedHillary frame that dominated the way we think about the first women in a general presidential election. It was easy for many to buy into the Hillary hype about corruption because Americans have always seen ambitious women as corrupt, vile, unhealthy, and villainous.

 Next Time

I’ve had a knot in my stomach for over a year about Clinton. I didn’t dare believe she would make it past the primary because we’ve been here before. I  had  even published a book about the impossibility of a female presidency that predicted Clinton’s loss in 2008. I started trusting the polls in the general election because they were so positive and her opponent was/is a buffoon. I knew better than to entirely trust them because pollsters generally underestimate sexism, so I halved the margins, which were still enough pre-Comey’s October Surprise.

I trusted the polls through #Shrillary, #Killary, smile more, smile less, a “horse on her way to the glue factory,” Clinton using the bathroom is “gross,” she doesn’t have the stamina, she doesn’t look “presidential,” “when she walked in front of me, believe me I was not impressed,” “bitch,” “whore,” “lock her up,” “nasty woman,” “kill the bitch.”

I trusted the polls because I believed that men on the Left were with us in this struggle, but in the end, too many left us to vote for a racist, sexist, xenophobic, hyper-masculine demagogue. This was not a victory on the Right, but a failure of the Left.

In the future, when the stars align and we get a female candidate who is the most qualified candidate in history with remarkably high name recognition, she will face the same tired sexism that upset this election. We need to remember that every woman who runs for the presidency becomes a villain.

Panicked About a Trump Win? Relax, and vote.

Many of my progressive friends are panicking about the possibility of Donald Trump winning the White House. This post lays out why Hillary Clinton is heavily favored to win in November. I begin with an overview of the data and then respond to three questions that were recently posed by my skeptical Grandma Lois.

The Odds are Not in Trump’s Favor

Clinton is favored to win because Trump has disaffected many key voting groups with his racist,  xenophobic, sexist, and abelist comments and actions (see video below).

Trump criticized a Gold Star family in a way that is sure to hurt his standing with some veterans and service members. He even kicked a crying baby out of a rally (see video below), so I’m pretty sure he lost the baby vote.

Trump’s brazen bullying may be red meat to many of his supporters, and this strategy effectively cut through the clutter of a crowded Republican primary field, but it will not serve him well in the general election.

General election voters are 53% female, and Trump has a 70% unfavorable rating with women. The gender gap has been a deciding factor in five of the last six presidential contests, with women selecting the winner every time. Clinton has opened a 24-point gender gap with Trump, the largest in history, and he can’t win the election without more support from the ladies.

The vast majority of people of color in the U.S. are expected to vote for Clinton over Trump in November. Three-quarters of voters of color “strongly dislike” The Donald, and he has a 94% unfavorable rating with Blacks and a 77% unfavorable rating with Latinx. People of color constitute one-in-three voters, a portion of the electorate that could determine the outcome even if the gender gap were not so massive.

Together, the gender gap and the race gap make a Trump presidency very unlikely.

“But Polls Show Them Neck and Neck!”

National polls are not very useful when it comes to presidential elections because this race is not a national contest. It is a state-by-state contest in the Electoral College (see video below). News media organizations use national polls because they are easier to explain than Electoral College maps, and they make elections seem closer than they really are. News organizations make more money when elections seem tight because the coverage is more exciting, so it fits their profit interest to mislead with national polls.

Presidential elections are decided in swing states, a list that typically includes Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio, and Virginia. Trump loses big in the Electoral College according to multiple expert analyses. Nate Silver puts the odds of Hillary Clinton winning at 66%, a number that will fluctuate somewhat between now and November 8th. Also, Trump’s candidacy has put four solidly red states into play this election — Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, and Missouri.

If you’re scratching your head about why so many Republican leaders have defied party bonds and not supported Trump, it’s because they know they don’t have to.

“But Trump Won the Primary!”

Trump’s “method” of winning the primary is precisely what will cost him the general.

Trump elbowed his way to the front of a packed field with a parody performance of masculinity that played upon the fears of Americans who feel they are being culturally left behind. Trump took up the longtime work of Fox News by giving these voters targets to vent their frustrations — “Mexicans,” refugees, women who don’t know their place (a sentiment invoked by a 10-year-old shouting “take the bitch down” at a recent campaign rally.) Some pundits argue that voters are attracted to Trump because they fear being left behind in the new economy, but analysis shows that racial fears are the actual driver of his support.

Trump supporters have significantly higher levels of racial resentment and concern about people from other countries threatening “American values” (a.k.a., xenophobia) than other Republicans and voters of other parties. Trump is the answer to eight years of a Black president with Fox News stoking racial resentment, but he is not the answer for a majority of voters.

It is true that Trump won the primary with a historically high number of votes (13 million) in the most crowded major party field in history. But primary and general election voters are not the same. About 120 million people are expected to vote in this high interest general election, and primary voters are more ideologically extreme than general election voters. For example, Republicans primary voters are more conservative than Republicans who vote in the general election, which means they are not as supportive of Trump’s extreme positions. Also, Trump may lose independent White voters who reject his overt racism.

Trump’s bombastic divide-and-conquer strategy worked to get him the nomination, but it won’t work in a general election because there simply aren’t enough whites with high levels of racial resentment to elect him.

What About Voter Suppression?

People who care about democracy have been rightfully concerned that voter ID laws would suppress enough votes to affect the outcome of the 2016 election. Republican-controlled state legislatures started passing voter ID laws in 2010, and 17 states now have them. Clinton has spoken about voter ID laws: “They’re doing everything they can to stop black people, Latinos, poor people, young people, people with disabilities from voting.” Trump has also spoken about these laws, saying the election will be “rigged” against him if these laws are not in place.

As I have previously written, on its face, an ID requirement to vote may seem reasonable, especially for the vast majority of Americans with IDs who use them to fly, purchase cigarettes, etc. But when considered within the broader political context, the anti-democratic intent of such legislation becomes clear.

Voter ID laws disproportionately affect Black Americans, Latino/a voters, U.S. citizens who were born in other countries, elderly people, people with disabilities, transgendered people, and students — all of whom are less likely to have the required ID for different reasons. A 2006 Brennan Center study finds that 25% of Black , 16% percent of Latino/s, and 18% percent of elderly Americans lack the necessary ID. Some on the left have accurately likened these new laws to Jim Crow Era poll taxes because the expense involved in obtaining an ID place a disproportionate burden on many groups that have been historically disenfranchised.

What do all of these groups have in common? With the exception of elderly Americans who have shifted Republican in recent years (although they still comprise the most active voting group for Democrats), the Americans who will be disproportionately affected by voter ID laws all vote overwhelmingly Democratic.

The voter ID movement is based on a bald-faced lie that voter impersonation is an issue. It’s not. As the DNC humorously notes, a person is 39 times more likely to be struck by lightning than to engage in voter impersonation, and 3,600 times more likely to report a UFO.

This voting fraud figure is based on a Bush Administration investigation into the matter that involved only 70 prosecutions nationwide, some of which were honest mistakes.

Voter suppression through voter ID laws will be minimal in the 2016 election because five courts in five states have struck down these laws in recent weeks. In North Dakota, a federal judge wrote that “The undisputed evidence before the Court reveals that voter fraud in North Dakota has been virtually non-existent.” Judges in Texas concluded that their voter ID law was intentionally designed to disenfranchise voters of color.

The jig is up with discriminatory voter ID laws, and while a dozen states still have these restrictions in place, the overall effect on the election is expected to be minor.

As a pundit, I have tried to interrupt the dog whistle politics at Fox News and other outlets for nearly a decade. Most progressive don’t watch Fox or other Right Wing content enough to know about the steady drip of racism, xenophobia, sexism, and misogyny delivered to viewers on a daily basis. Trump’s ascension has exposed the extent of bigotry in the electorate, which makes it easier to address. He has also helped to elect our first female president. (Any other leading Republican candidate likely would probably have beaten her, cause sexism.) Thanks, Trump, for making Grandma Lois so happy come November.