White Women Are Not a Monolith

They are the largest and most narrowly divided group in the electorate. And they can be swayed.

Jill Filipovic
GEN
Published in
10 min readDec 7, 2020

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A woman seen with an American flag gathering at a Protect the Results rally at the Monroe County courthouse in Indiana
A woman at a Protect the Results rally in Indiana on November 8. Photo: Jeremy Hogan/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images

For all the conservative complaints about “identity politics” on the left, the 2020 presidential election reaffirmed what has been the Republican Party strategy under Trump: Be the narrowly identitarian party of the aggrieved white male voter. And Biden’s win came on the energy of the Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton coalitions: Black voters in particular, voters of color more generally, and women.

But as data from this election slowly rolls in, a few uncomfortable and puzzling trends seem to be emerging. Despite attacks on women’s right, racial justice advocates, and immigrants, and despite a bungled pandemic response that has pushed huge numbers of women out of the workforce and driven up a disproportionate number of infections, hospitalizations, and deaths among Black, Latino, and Native people, Trump still secured more votes from women and people of color than projected. Most people would say that they vote in their own best interests. But it turns out that those interests are complicated — especially for white women, the most divided group in America.

Already, the takes about white female voters are rolling in. “White women vote Republican. Get used to it, Democrats,” lectured one Washington Post headline. “The Democratic Party should stop wasting so much time on the lost cause of suburban wine moms,” the piece argued, “and start listening to the voices that form the core of the party’s base.”

But the sweeping conclusions about white women as a lost cause for Democrats are rooted more in frustration than fact. The data we have right now largely comes from exit polls, which are notoriously unreliable. Remember that statistic, still often cited, that 52% or 53% of white women voted for Trump in 2016? That was from an exit poll — and it wasn’t true. Exit polls are already skewed in the best of years; this year, when so many votes were cast by mail, they may be even less…

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