Why Hillary Clinton was right about white women – and their husbands

Conventional wisdom says women will show solidarity at the polls. But new research shows that for white women, having a husband trumped the sisterhood

Supporters hold ‘Women for Trump’ signs before a campaign rally for the presidential candidate on 7 November 2016, in Manchester, New Hampshire. Photograph: Charles Krupa/AP

Hillary Clinton hoped to wear white on election night, a tribute to the suffragettes and the sweep of political history. Instead, as she wrote in her new book, the white suit stayed in her garment bag as she donned the gray and purple garment she had intended for her first trip to Washington as president-elect.

Given the opportunity to make history by electing the first female president, women didn’t take it. And ironically, the women who bore the most resemblance to Clinton – white, heterosexual and married – were less likely to vote for her.

Many had expected Clinton to rally women, the same way Barack Obama rallied black voters in 2008 – and if she had, she would have handily trumped Donald Trump. But while Obama won 95% of the black vote, Clinton won just 54% of women – a percentage point less than her male predecessor atop the Democratic ticket. Among white women in particular, she fared even worse: a slim majority voted for Trump.

Last week, Clinton, who has had a lifetime to contemplate the women’s vote, copped to having a theory. “[Women] will be under tremendous pressure – and I’m talking principally about white women. They will be under tremendous pressure from fathers and husbands and boyfriends and male employers not to vote for ‘the girl’,” she said in an interview as part of a tour promoting her new memoir of the 2016 campaign.

People might scoff at the idea that women vote based on what husbands and fathers tell them to do. And tens of millions of dollars in political messaging has been spent based on the assumption that women will vote collectively on equal pay, abortion, and other salient issues regarding women’s autonomy.

But social science backs up Clinton’s anecdotal hunch. “We think she was right in her analysis about women getting pressure from men in their lives, specifically [straight] white women,” said Kelsy Kretschmer, an assistant professor at Oregon State University and a co-author of a recent 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…

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