Women are Not a Voting Bloc

Four highly-qualified (and two less-qualified) women ran and lost in 2020.

I’m seeing quite a bit of sadness and bitterness on my Twitter feed from women who supported Elizabeth Warren that, once again, a superbly-qualified woman lost out to less-qualified men.

I’m seeing heartfelt stories of how they, personally, lost out on jobs even though they were the best qualified because the men doing the hiring didn’t “like” them or think they were a “good fit.”

I have no doubt that this has happened and have no desire here to diminish the pain that they suffered. Or, indeed, to question that sexism played a significant role in the failure of Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, Kamala Harris, or Kirsten Gillibrand—all superbly qualified women—to catch on.

But the exit polls from the Super Tuesday states do show us something important:

Women absolutely voted for Warren more frequently than did men. Indeed, she finished third among women and fourth among men. But she still got ten points fewer than Sanders and a whopping twenty points fewer than Biden among her fellow women.

I don’t have access to the crosstabs so can’t fully explain this. But I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that it’s pretty much the same reason she did so poorly among men: there was a strong sense that she couldn’t win, which drove people who would otherwise have supported her to choose between Sanders and Biden. Beyond that, as Matt Yglesias explained before the voting started, Warren’s appeal was concentrated among affluent, white, college-educated voters who are a small chunk of the electorate.

And, lo and behold, the exit polls bear that out:

But, of course, because of strategic voting referenced above, she didn’t do all that well even among her key demographic:

As I argued this morning, while this is obviously disappointing for Warren and her supporters, it’s not an embarrassment. She decided, against all odds, to continue to fight in what may well be her last, best shot at the nomination. But, like it or not, the voters knew the odds and picked among the two candidates who could win.

Even women.

Because, as OTB regular Michael Reynolds pointed out the other day,

Women have all the power they need to nominate a Gillibrand, a Harris, a Klobuchar or a Warren. You can blame men for a whole hell of a lot, but not for the outcome of Democratic primaries.

Women are not a voting block. I’ve been saying this (and bemoaning it) for a long time, now. Black women are a voting block. White women are not. The assumption by many on the Left that women, like African Americans or gays, are an oppressed minority, and that women’s rights should follow the Civil Rights model is simply wrong. Women are a majority, a majority which flatly rejects the notion that they are a voting block.

I wish it wasn’t so, I’d love to believe this majority will swing Left en masse, but election after election, it does not happen.

Now, I’m happy that women aren’t a voting block. It means that, despite a long and undeniable history of sexism in our society, women don’t feel like outsiders in our country but rather see themselves as full citizens with myriad, conflicting interests. Sure, there’s been a “gender gap” for four decades but it’s nothing like the race gap.

African-Americans are a voting block because they were held in bondage for three hundred years, held down by Jim Crow for another hundred, and have seen one political party as organized against their collective self-interest for the last half-century.

In my ideal world, the Republican Party will reinvent itself in such a way that African-Americans who are considering voting for its candidates don’t feel like traitors for doing so.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Amy Klobuchar, Campaign 2020, Elizabeth Warren, Gender Issues, Kamala Harris, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. mattbernius says:

    In my ideal world, the Republican Party will reinvent itself in such a way that African-Americans who are considering voting for its candidates don’t feel like traitors for doing so.

    Thanks for a good morning chuckle.

    I totally agree that would be an ideal world.

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  2. James Joyner says:

    @mattbernius: Given the resiliency of the current two-party system, I think it’ll happen but it’ll take another 20 years. The core Republican constituency is dying off and being replaced by a much more diverse demographic who will increasingly turn out to vote as they get further into adulthood.

    As it is, we’ve forestalled the change only because the Electoral College and Senate reward the current approach. Without the former, the GOP would have lost all but one presidential election going back to 1992. But two “wins” with fewer votes than the Democrat has made everything seem alright.

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  3. mattbernius says:

    @James Joyner:

    I think it’ll happen but it’ll take another 20 years.

    I agree that it will eventually happen due to the nature of our system, but I sadly think your timeline is way too hopeful — in part for exactly the reasons you just listed.

    Honestly the best hope for this to happen on this timeline is a Trump defeat in the fall. However, if he wins — especially if he again loses the popular vote — then all bets are off and the GOP is going to continue to focus on restricting voting and maximizing its advantage in suburban and rural white areas for the foreseeable future.

    Until the GOP is willing to have any discussion that there might be a possibility that they’ve got issues addressing race, things will not improve. And for a not insignificant portion of the party, the fact they have Candice Owens and Diamond and Silk is all they need to say that they’re an inclusive party. I don’t see that conversation happening anytime soon without a Trump loss.

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  4. Liberal Capitalist says:

    I’m seeing quite a bit of sadness and bitterness on my Twitter feed from women who supported Elizabeth Sanders…

    I imagine there would be, as she is not on the ballot! 🙂

    Don’t you EVEN make me imagine that mashup!

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  5. Scott says:

    there was a strong sense that she couldn’t win, which drove people who would otherwise have supported her to choose between Sanders and Biden.

    This was absolutely true in my family. The women of my California branch changed their votes from Warren to Biden yesterday for just the reasons you stated.

  6. CSK says:

    Who is Elizabeth Sanders?

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  7. Jen says:

    @Liberal Capitalist:
    @CSK:

    Ha, I caught that too. 🙂

  8. James Joyner says:

    @Liberal Capitalist: Ha. Fixed. I’ve done that more than once this cycle. I don’t know whether it’s some sort of Freudian slip or just a function of them both having rather generic last names in a field of rather unusual ones.

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  9. KM says:

    @James Joyner:
    I admire your optisim that you think Trumpism and MAGAts will not be in play 20 years from now. Yes, the main contingent of Old Bitter White Folks will die off by then but they’ve fundamentally changed the game with the creation of “fake news”. See, they’re raising an entire generation with the concept that fake news and Deep State and hoaxes and conspiracy theories are definitely things. They’re poisoning the well of truth in a way that will take more then a generational die-off will solve. We’d have to lose the current generation as well as the up-coming one if we stop the fake news crap right now for that mentality to cease….. and you know as well as I do Trump won’t shut his mouth till 2 weeks after he dies. Leaving the Presidency will do NOTHING to stop his preferred brand of GOP nuts so he and his are going nowhere anytime soon. Our grandchildren will still be dealing with this when they are old because this kind of stupid is eternal.

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  10. Polimom says:

    I expect I’m about to get down-voted into oblivion. Nonetheless, there’s been an overarching theme over the last week or so (probably for longer): Identity Politics. I submit that this approach to the body politic is causing some flawed analysis.

    Although there are some demographic groups about which one can generalize somewhat (level of educational attainment, for instance), “Identity Politics” in general leads down any number of rabbit holes. “Why didn’t this or that group turn out?” “What veep candidate choice would lure that identity group?” The expectation that women would turn out for Hillary last time, or confusion about women not supporting E. Warren this time.

    Identity Politics suggests that (most) voters are single-issue voters, and the issue IS their identity. That this is not the case should be obvious, yet here we are in a post titled “Women are not a voting block”. It should have gone without saying.

    The sooner we get back to issues-based politics, the better (imho). People are far more complex than pegs for holes.

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  11. drj says:

    @Polimom:

    It’s also identity politics when whites do it.

    But (to you, it seems) it’s only a problem when minorities or the powerless do it.

    By the way, the GOP has been VERY successful with identity politics in the last half century or so. Ask Lee Atwater:

    You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger”. By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites.

    Perhaps it’s a bit unrealistic to ask people who have been subjected to this shit for generations to suddenly pretend they’re all part of one big, happy American family, don’t you think?

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  12. mattbernius says:

    @Polimom I think the challenge is that issue and identity politics are not a binary opposition — no matter how much we want them to be to keep things intellectually clean. I’m having a hard time thinking about any lynchpin issue that doesn’t have both issue and identity components.

    For example abortion is fundamentally tied to (White) Evangelical and Christian identity. Criminal Justice Reform cannot be separated from minority issues (the data demonstrates that racial disparity is fundamentally baked into the way justice is applied in the US).

    Again, the biggest problem that Sanders, for example has, is that he was historically unwilling to really acknowledge a critical racial component of issues like poverty.

    Likewise, part of Trump’s success was his ability to embrace and galvanize the White voter core of the Republican Party — in particular rural white voters (farm issues are also fundamentally identity issues too).

    The sooner we all get more comfortable understanding that both are always already in play, the better we can address critical dynamics within our country.

    “Why didn’t this or that group turn out?” “What veep candidate choice would lure that identity group?”

    I think this is in part looping us back to my comments from the Klobachar post. Again, my stance is that representation matters at the top of a ticket. And I’ve yet to see anyone actually tackle the question that I posed there:

    Can anyone advance an argument for why the Democrats, knowing that they have a mixed coalition and that minority turn-out is critical to them winning elections, *shouldn’t* choose a minority candidate for VP?

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  13. de stijl says:

    Not a criticism of OTB, just constructive feedback…

    GET A WOMAN FRONTPAGER!

    ahem, my throat is a might sore. Sorry for the outburst.

    Someone who gets that received normative white, male, straight is *also* a special interest.

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  14. Polimom says:

    @mattbernius: I’ll take that last question first —

    Can anyone advance an argument for why the Democrats, knowing that they have a mixed coalition and that minority turn-out is critical to them winning elections, *shouldn’t* choose a minority candidate for VP?

    I cannot. And I would not. Myself, I think what outta matter in the veep slot is that their positions on the issues be in alignment. And of course the current crop of septuagenarians means probably somebody a decade or two younger would be better. 😮

    For example abortion is fundamentally tied to (White) Evangelical and Christian identity. Criminal Justice Reform cannot be separated from minority issues (the data demonstrates that racial disparity is fundamentally baked into the way justice is applied in the US).

    I’m glad you brought up abortion. The evangelicals are the single group I can think of that are single issue right down the line. Christians more broadly don’t really fit the label, nor do racial designations. I agree that evangelicals are an identity group, because their evangelicalness (fun new word!) dictates their voting behavior.

    I looked for polling data re: CJ reform and struck out, but (anecdotally, so grain of salt here) nearly everyone I’ve spoken with on this issue sees reforms as critical and recognize historical bias in the CJ system.

    Are there issues that overlap with identity politics? Or course there are! But most people embrace a variety of different positions on various issues. They generally don’t identify themselves by a single issue (with the above-noted evangelical exception), although if you know of others who will vote 100% of the time based on an issue let me know. Not trying to be absolutist.

    Did Trump galvanize the disgruntled whites? Sure, although I suspect they’re the same group stirred up by Atwater, and they’ve just never stopped being riled up. Yet they aren’t a majority of people, or even Trump supporters. Unfortunately, applying identity politics there (look! ticked off white racists!) has played right into a binary strawman. Now it’s nearly impossible to look at a Trump supporter and not think, “S/He’s racist” (I ran a social experiment on exactly that preconception just yesterday, as it happens. Walked around town in a MAGA hat. It was unnerving.)

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  15. Scott says:

    Did Trump galvanize the disgruntled whites? Sure, although I suspect they’re the same group stirred up by Atwater, and they’ve just never stopped being riled up.

    Before Atwater, there was George Wallace. And he riled up more than Southerners. White grievance has gone on for a long time.

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  16. @de stijl:

    GET A WOMAN FRONTPAGER!

    I guess my initial rejoinder (apart from, of course, we would like that) is that since our attempts to get any new frontpagers keeps falling flat (we have tried), specific requests may be exponentially more difficult to achieve.

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  17. de stijl says:

    @Polimom:

    You have way more steel in your spine than me.

    I could not have done the MAGA hat experiment. It would have messed with my anxiety prone brain too hard. Unpossible.

    I am am fascinated with fearlessness. Quite possibly with yearning envy.

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  18. mattbernius says:

    @Polimom:

    Myself, I think what outta matter in the veep slot is that their positions on the issues be in alignment. And of course the current crop of septuagenarians means probably somebody a decade or two younger would be better.

    Sure. Agreed on both. But the reality there will be many people who that fits within the Democratic party. Which then brings identity and race (as well as gender) right back into the conversation.

    CJ reform and struck out, but (anecdotally, so grain of salt here) nearly everyone I’ve spoken with on this issue sees reforms as critical and recognize historical bias in the CJ system.

    Fair. At a very high level, there is some general consensus about a need for CJ reform. Once you dig into it, things break apart really fast (outside of a few key areas like more diversion and recidivism prevention programs). However, there is still a strong identity component, especially around topics like policing (see the Black Lives Matter movement) and to a lesser degree progressive prosecution (which again intersect with BLM).

    One other key component here, generally speaking, acknowledging the need for criminal justice reform more or less requires recognizing the racial component. People who historically don’t see a race/identity issue within CJ also think the system is working fine (see just about every National Review article on Criminal Justice other than ones written by David French).

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  19. de stijl says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    J-Schools are producing more candidates than the market can currently bear.

    Don’t outsource recruitment to the community, It’s bs avoidance behavior.

    You have to choose, and this sounds hippie, but you also have to choose to choose.

    If you want a new frontpager it is on you to make it happen.

    There are more J-School grads than jobs. This is not an insurmountable problem. You have to arrange a mutually beneficial arrangement.

    There a lot of posts that could highlight what happened, how others have reacted, and some light analysis. You could help develop a new voice.

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  20. Polimom says:

    @mattbernius:

    […] acknowledging the need for criminal justice reform more or less requires recognizing the racial component.

    Agreed. But there’s been a ton of data. Sentencing disparities, for instance. I know, personally, folks who changed their positions on this issue when they saw the data.

    Related: the presence of a cell phone in pretty much every police encounter has led to a massive increase in overall awareness of problems in policing. I see this as another type of data that is affecting views.

    Can’t remember the last National Review article I read on the CJ topic, but I don’t think it’s just David French who can acknowledge the problem. (Fair to say I really don’t feel like a site search just now.) The commenters there are another story… (I’ve found that to be a fun place to light a rhetorical match and run now and again. 😮 )

    And finally… in the interests of fairness, people who care about CJ reform (I’m one) would do well to acknowledge the efforts by Trump to improve things. It isn’t nearly enough, but it’s more than I’d guess most expected.

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  21. @de stijl: Are you operating from the assumption that we get paid to write here?

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  22. @de stijl: I am also not sure why you think that J-Schools would be where this blog would pull contributors (the main commonality across almost all contributors has been a degree in Political Science).

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  23. Polimom says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Are you operating from the assumption that we get paid to write here?

    More hilarity. Just how hard is it to add an LOL thumb, anyway?

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  24. @Polimom: Indeed 🙂

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  25. @de stijl:

    Don’t outsource recruitment to the community, It’s bs avoidance behavior.

    On this: when did I ask anyone else to recruit? And you are being kindy of presumptuous here, don’t you think? You are assigning me work while at the same time having no idea what efforts have been undertaken to recruit writers.

    (Not to mention, I have limited time to devote to this place as it is–my surge of activity this afternoon is owing to being in an airport).

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  26. mattbernius says:

    @Polimom:

    And finally… in the interests of fairness, people who care about CJ reform (I’m one) would do well to acknowledge the efforts by Trump to improve things.

    Ugh… let’s not go there.

    Jared Kushner did a lot to finally get the first Step Act past Mitch McConnell (Republicans killed any CJ reform under Obama and even the First Step Act squeaked through). So I’ll give him credit.

    Trump gets credit for signing it and then that’s about it. Especially since (1) he continues to hire Attorney Generals who are doing their best to undercut the First Step Act, and (2) hasn’t ever delivered anything in his budgets to actually support the First Step Act.

    Additionally, everything else the administration has done is over-turning even the most basic controls on police departments that happened under Obama (including completely reversing course on many civil rights investigations). He’s also appointed countless “tough on crime” judges at the Federal Level and Kavanaugh will most likely always support police on any topic of qualified immunity.

    And that’s before we get to the President’s encouragement of police to rough up suspects and other promises to always protect them against reform movements.

    He also is lagging Obama at this point in terms of pardons and commutations of low level offenders. I’m very happy Matthew Charles and Alice Johnson are out (again credit to Kim Kardasian). But in terms of numbers, its more flash than any substance.

    So, I will acknowledge that Trump did good by signing the First Step Act, but that’s about it (and he’s done a LOT of additional harm that needs to be called out).

    (BTW, I work in the CJ Reform space so this is a topic that’s obviously near and dear to my heart).

    Aside, I totally agree that you have a lot of guts to do the MAGA Hat thing.

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  27. gVOR08 says:

    @Polimom:

    The sooner we get back to issues-based politics, the better (imho). People are far more complex than pegs for holes.

    I upvoted as I also dislike ethnic based identity politics. But there’s no ancient issue based politics to go back to. People have always voted based on some real or imagined tribal affiliation. And Republicans who decry identity politics are practicing it. They just pretend vanilla isn’t a flavor.

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  28. James Joyner says:

    @de stijl:

    GET A WOMAN FRONTPAGER!

    As Steven has noted upthread, it’s harder than it sounds. Blogging isn’t a thriving industry right now and most of our front-pagers have fallen by the wayside.

    Kate McMillan was actually one of our initial frontpagers when we became a group blog but she faded out years and years ago. And she’d now be a poor fit—she’s almost hard right now compared to the Steven and myself. Or Doug, presuming he returns.

    As Steven also noted, our voice is rather hard to replicate. Steven and I are political science PhDs and Doug has a law degree. We’ve had other PhDs, ABDs, and attorneys with posting privileges but they’ve all drifted away.

    I’d be happy to have an economist or physical scientist with similar political sensibilities and intellectual disposition. But, again, where to find them? Especially to work for free. (I’m working at a loss, as it costs more to keep the proverbial lights on than we draw in contributions.)

    Someone who gets that received normative white, male, straight is *also* a special interest.

    It’s an overlapping series of interests and I’m pretty sure that the political scientists who run the site understand the idea of cleavages and interest groups.

    Regardless, the point of this post and the follow-up are that, like men, women have overlapping interests. Yes, gender issues matter and, yes, women tend to prioritize interests differently in the aggregate.

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  29. de stijl says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    A cool kid could buff their resume very well. Be much more employable after a stint. Just don’t lay all of Doug’s burden on them. Guaranteed burnout.

    Again, putting your inability to expand on your existing customer base. Outsourcing your dilemma.

    I know this is voluntary for the founders. I really know. Been there very briefly.

    Lamenting a plateau. Actively choosing to change it.

    Choose one.

    Adaptation is key.

    Dave Weigel at WaPo started out as an intern at Reason’s blog. He got better and when he was there, Hit & Run was better when he was there.

    This is not untrod ground.

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  30. Kari Q says:

    @Scott:

    The women of my California branch changed their votes from Warren to Biden yesterday for just the reasons you stated.

    I did this as well. I went to the polling place wanting to vote for Warren, knowing she had no chance to win. But when I really thought about it, Biden versus Sanders was not a difficult choice. I’m ideologically closer to Sanders, but he will make a poor president. Biden may make a pretty good one.

  31. An Interested Party says:

    Now it’s nearly impossible to look at a Trump supporter and not think, “S/He’s racist”…

    Of course that is impossible, considering he himself is racist…

    And finally… in the interests of fairness, people who care about CJ reform (I’m one) would do well to acknowledge the efforts by Trump to improve things. It isn’t nearly enough, but it’s more than I’d guess most expected.

    It’s hard to acknowledge any alleged efforts with CJ reform when they are supposedly being pushed by a vicious bigot…