1. Why did Donald J. Trump win the Electoral College in the 2016 presidential elections? Fierce battles have been waged, ferocious wars have been launched, all over the "real" reason why Trump triumphed (heh).
Was it white supremacy that motivated his base? Was it pure racism? Fear of the Mexicans invading? Was it the economic despair among those white working class members who dwell without hope but with great bitterness in the Rust Belt ghost towns?
Or was it desire for change with a capital C, from the Tea Party Republican fringe to the progressive wing of the Democratic Party? A fairer income redistribution? An end to the dwindling of the American middle class?
Why the need to choose just one reason, I wonder. The Trump voters (all voters, really) might well have over sixty million different stories, each with its own package of complicated, often poorly reasoned and poorly understood explanations.
Some may have voted their economic anxiety, some their racial resentment or xenophobia, some may have voted for tax cuts, some for the end of all "baby-killing" and so on. This isn't anything new. As I have shown in my previous post, many Republican voters just decided to come back home to Daddy, even though Daddy this year is a pussy-grabbing racist narcissistic member of the international financial elite who cannot leave the slightest insult unanswered.
The intellectual games to tease out the "main" reason for Trump-love are fun, but they are ultimately not very productive, because the real reasons why we vote for a certain candidate are all braided together. They can even influence each other, and some of them are most likely subconscious and thus invisible, even to the voter herself or himself.
Take the economic resentment explanation: How voters view the overall economic situation depends on the administration in power and other political events. Here's an example, a few days after the elections:
After Trump won last week's election, Republicans and Republican-leaning independents now have a much more optimistic view of the U.S. economy's outlook than they did before the election. Just 16% of Republicans said the economy was getting better in the week before the election, while 81% said it was getting worse. Since the election, 49% say it is getting better and 44% worse.
Conversely, Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents' confidence in the economy plummeted after the election. Before the election, 61% of Democrats said the economy was getting better and 35% worse. Now, Democrats are evenly divided, with 46% saying it is getting better and 47% saying it is getting worse.
My point is not that economic woes wouldn't have mattered in the 2016 elections, but that the voters' feelings about the state of the economy can be colored by those same voters' general feelings about the administration in power. For some, even the race and/or gender of the sitting president affects that economic evaluation. (1)
This intertwined aspect of one's reasons for voting in a certain way complicates the answers to the question I posed in the title of this post: Did sexism affect the results?
It is further complicated by the fact that very few voters are going to answer political surveys by saying that their vote for Trump was motivated by their hatred of all those bitches and sluts and manipulative whores and the desire to keep them from power, even if that is the true reason. Rather, they will give some other, more acceptable reasons for their vote, and the same applies to those who vote their racism or anti-Semitism or other types of bigotry.
2. Given all that, what was the role of sexism in the 2016 presidential election?
Surely it had some role to play, because despite the way Hillary Clinton was seen as the insider, as the elitist, as the pursuer of the same-old-same-old Obama policies or neoliberal policies, as the most powerful political agent of the last thirty years, the fact remains that she has girl cooties.
And our inherited traditions warn us about those cooties. The Bible tells us that the man is the head of the household and that women should be silent in the congregation. The Quran tells us that men are placed above women in the divine hierarchy, Confucianism expects obedience from women, and even Buddha taught that wives should be obedient to their husbands. And Aristotle viewed men as more expert in leading than women.
Given that intellectual and religious tradition, it's not surprising that I saw a white Trump-voting woman tell the camera that women have an extra gland which makes them more emotional and more likely to start wars, despite the fact that almost all wars have so far been started by men, and it's not surprising that I read an other white Trump-voting woman state that men are smarter and less emotional than women and therefore better leaders, presumably less likely to kill anyone by careless warfare. Finally, it's not surprising that I read about an older Asian-American woman who believes that women have no business in places of power.
Because of that inheritance we all share, even if to varying degrees.
But the above anecdotes are just anecdotes, as are the few I heard about Hispanic men voting for Trump because they could not vote for a woman. Is there anything else that we could use to judge the impact of sexism in Trump's victory?
I found two studies which explicitly address that question, as one of several possible reasons for why someone might support Trump.
The first of these, by Carly Wayne, Nicholas Valentino and Marzia Oceno, was carried out last June, before the pussy-grabbing incident became known:(2)
In June 2016, we conducted a nationally representative survey of 700 U.S. citizens. They were asked whether they agreed with statements such as “Most women interpret innocent remarks or acts as being sexist” and “Many women are actually seeking special favors, such as hiring policies that favor them over men, under the guise of asking for equality.” An index based on these statements is widely used in social science research on sexism and gender attitudes.
We found that sexism was strongly and significantly correlated with support for Trump, even after accounting for party identification, ideology, authoritarianism and ethnocentrism. In fact, the impact of sexism was equivalent to the impact of ethnocentrism and much larger than the impact of authoritarianism. Again, this was in June — well before the “Access Hollywood” tape was released and several women came forward to accuse Trump of unwanted touching or kissing.
The second study, by Brian Schaffner, (3) was carried out in late October. It measured sexism, racism and economic anxiety as follows:
...I draw on a nationally representative survey designed by Matthew MacWilliams, Tatishe Nteta, and myself and fielded by YouGov two weeks before the election (October 26 to 31). Fortunately, that survey includes the kinds of questions needed to measure the competing narratives about what drove the white vote.The author concluded that all three mattered in the choices of white voters:
To capture economic security, I use a question that asked individuals how satisfied they were with their own economic situation. For sexism, I used an item taken from a well-established battery of questions designed to measure the concept. The question asks respondents whether they agree or disagree that "women seek to gain power by getting control over men." And to capture racism, I use an item taken from a battery that measures the extent to which an individual acknowledges the existence of racism. This particular item asks respondents to indicate whether they agree or disagree that "[w]hite people in the US have certain advantages because of the color of their skin."
It is clear from this graph that there is no simple single explanation for why whites supported Trump over Clinton. Indeed, each of these three explanations appears to be important in explaining the vote. Dissatisfaction with one’s own economic situation leads to a sizable increase in the probability of supporting Trump, but so too does increasing levels of denial that racism exists in America.
Sexism is also a powerful force, as those who are more in agreement that women seek to gain control over men were far more likely to support Trump.
Notably, the impact of sexism appears to be unique to the 2016 election, as I have shown in an analysis of other polling data.
The types of statements these two studies use are intended to capture hostile sexism, the kind that the manosphere displays, sizzling with anger. The authors of the first study carried out an additional exploration of what's called benevolent sexism (the belief that the little ladies should be protected and kept away from the hurly-burly of the public sphere). That form of sexism didn't correlate with voting for Trump.(4)
If it is, indeed, correct (5) that the impact of sexism was unique to the 2016 election, as the above Schaffner quote argues, then it was probably a response to Hillary Clinton's girl cooties and her role as a symbol for all uppity women.
What can we conclude from this short investigation of the possible role of sexism and even misogyny in the presidential election of 2016?
It probably played a role, but how large that role might be is difficult to judge. We cannot replace Hillary Clinton with an otherwise identical but male version (Harry Clinton) and then re-run the elections, and that would be the only way we could get a certain answer.
(1) There are single-issue voters, of course, and for them the above analysis doesn't hold. Most of them are Evangelical Christians who learn at their churches that abortion is a grave sin (even though the Bible doesn't mention it) and that they should always vote for the candidates who state that they wish to make abortions illegal, even if those candidates don't plan to act on the issues.
That Donald J. Trump, the secular playboy, who discards his wives the way I discard used tissues, was the favored candidate of the Christian right-wing believers, over an actual Methodist, is one of the more hilarious aspects of this election.
On the gender and/or race of the president: It's pretty clear that an African-American president has angered large swathes of the extreme right in American politics. How that anger played in the last elections is difficult to measure apart from general racist beliefs.
Note, also, that strictly speaking there has been no variation in the gender of the US president, as all of them have been or are men. But I added it to be politically correct! Hah. And also because the fear of the petticoat rule is the topic of this post.
(2) I was unable to find a manuscript or published version of this study, so I'm not sure what ethnocentrism means in this context, but it might come close to racism?
(3) I was unable to find the manuscript or published version of this study, either, so I'm not 100% certain if the sample the author mentions is an actual random sample or an online self-selecting sample which the author regards as representative.
(4) The authors conclude that therefore "Trump’s support among sexists doesn’t seem to be a function of the traditional, old-fashioned “family values” usually associated with the Republican Party." But this further study was based on an online survey which might have self-selection bias.
(5) I haven't studied the literature to be able to judge Schaffner's statement, but Carly Wayne argues that sexism has mattered even in earlier elections without a female candidate:
Moreover, other research has shown that sexism is associated with support for many political figures in both parties — including, in 2012, Barack Obama (negatively) and Mitt Romney (positively). Although partisanship often matters more than attitudes about gender in determining preferences in general election matchups between Democratic and Republican candidates, our and others’ research suggests that sexism may be baked into how Americans view the political parties.