In Oct. of 2016, U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren delivered an impassioned speech at a Clinton campaign rally in New Hampshire in which she proclaimed, “I’ve got news for you Donald Trump, women have had it with guys like you.”
Indeed, the majority of women who voted in the election favored Hillary Clinton, who won women’s overall votes by 54%. However, one of the major demographics Clinton desperately needed to win the presidency, college-educated whites, did not support her as most pre-election polls suggested they would. Only 51% of college-educated white women voted for Hillary Clinton, according to Edison Research Exit Polls, a reality that many people still don’t fully understand.
In SNL’s skit “Election Night,” comedian Chris Rock’s character joked, “I don’t get you ladies. The country is 55% women. If the country was 55% black, we’d have tons of black presidents. I mean, Flavor Flav would be president.”
So why didn’t white women turn out to vote for the first female major-party candidate to run for the U.S. presidency? And perhaps more importantly for me, why did young women not vote for Hillary Clinton? For a small bit of insight into this phenomenon, I spoke to three undergraduate white women at a southern public state university who explained why they cast their votes for President Donald Trump.
Beverlee Harbuck, political science sophomore, considers herself a moderate who leans left on social issues and right economically.
“For a moderate like myself, it was very hard to choose a candidate to stand behind and support,” she says. “I really endorsed Ben Carson for a long time. In the primaries, I did not vote for Donald Trump.”
When Trump’s candidacy was first announced, Harbuck recalls thinking his nomination was a joke or ploy from the Democratic party to “poke fun at the conservatives.” However, when Trump won the Republican nomination and was endorsed by Ben Carson, Harbuck began further researching Trump’s policies and political platform.
The primary factor that led Harbuck to vote for Trump, she says, was his recognition of the working class. Growing up watching her father, an insurance salesman, work hard to provide for his family, Harbuck came to believe that hard-working middle class citizens like her father are often overlooked by the federal government.
“People like my dad go unnoticed and [with Trump as president] they are going to get what they deserve and worked hard for. I want to see it back in the working class,” she says.
Harbuck would like to see the kind of palpable change that she thinks someone like Donald Trump could bring to pass. Having someone other than a politician in office, she hopes, could result in the country finally getting something done. Additionally, Harbuck believes that the mainstream media had a bias in favor of Clinton, which in her opinion contributed to Trump’s victory.
“When I formed my own opinion, the media was telling me how wrong I was, which...is why a lot of moderates swung towards Trump and not Hillary, or didn’t vote at all,” she says. “[The media is] making us lazy. You’re taking away from freedom of choice.” Overall, Harbuck says she voted in favor of “the policy, not the person.”
Sarah Lemke, a dramaturgy junior, agrees it was policy that led her to vote for Trump rather than the candidate himself. “I’m super pro-life so that’s what I cared about the most. I’m going to vote for the Supreme Court. Although Trump hasn’t always been pro-life, he claims to be now,” Lemke says.
Lemke voted in the hope Trump would fill the vacant seat in the Supreme Court with a judge dedicated to overturning Roe v. Wade and making abortion illegal, she says. Lemke admits that she was in the same predicament as many other Americans, who didn’t truly like either candidate.
“I don’t like Trump and I don’t like Hillary, but I knew one of them was going to win, and I’m one of those ‘lesser of two evils’ kind of people,” she says. “With Trump more than with Hillary, I really wanted to see if his campaign promises would actually go through and if they will work.”
Erin Psajdl, a freshman studying finance and sports management, agrees that Trump’s campaign promises are more likely to be fulfilled because he was upfront with his platform and didn’t have to worry about gaining acceptance from politicians and the Washington elite.
“In my opinion, Donald Trump was calling it how it was. I wanted someone that wouldn’t feed into the corruption that’s been in Washington,” Psajdl says. “I wanted someone who I didn’t think was lying to me and someone who I thought would say what they meant without worrying about what people were thinking.”
Other issues that swayed Psajdl’s vote were Trump’s dedication to helping the working class, dismantling the Affordable Care Act, and tightening border control.
Although each of the women I spoke to had different reasons for casting their vote for President Trump, they all have one common desire: to see increased unity, tolerance and respect nationwide.
“What I want to see more than anything is people actually coming together, talking, and being respectful. I think generalizing either side is impossible, but people do it,” Lemke says.
Harbuck agrees that generalizations are an unproductive means for either party to accomplish their goals. These generalizations stem from the division created by the two party system, she says. “In a utopian society, we don't have any political parties. We all work together to achieve success and prosperity.”
Psajdl also believes political parties lead people to the false belief that Republicans and Democrats are opposite entities unable to find common ground. “I think we all need to be more accepting because different viewpoints help make progress. We all have more in common than we think we do,” she says.
The issues these young women care about most are typical of the average Trump voter. The Pew Research Center released a graph detailing the voting issues that Trump and Clinton voters considered to be most important. Three issues that were most significant for Trump voters – the economy, terrorism, and immigration – also largely influenced Clinton voters.
However, some of the factors considered most important to Clinton voters – treatment of racial and ethnic minorities, the environment, and treatment of LGBTQ citizens – were the issues Trump voters considered least important.
Millennial women who cast their vote for Trump are unique in that they identify with other Trump voters and particularly with older white women who voted for Trump, rather than the majority of voters in their age group. In fact, the issues most important to the majority of millennials align closely with those of Clinton voters in all age groups. Consequently, this incongruity can result in college-aged Trump voters feeling isolated on college campuses.
“I believe we live in a time where we have to have a label for everything and everyone, and I believe these labels divide us even more,” Harbuck says. “I don’t stand for exclusion or division.”
Photo credit: Elvert Barnes Photography