Understanding ‘the white women thing’

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Donald Trump likes to brag that most women in America voted for him for president. Like many things the president says, that’s just not true. Most women, 54 percent, voted for Hillary Clinton. However,  52 percent of white women did vote for Trump — and that’s the cohort that drives black women nuts. While 94 percent of black women chose the first woman nominated by a major political party to occupy the Oval Office, most of their white sisters went for the guy who opposed abortion rights and bragged about grabbing women by the p—-.  

Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors spoke for many women of color when she called upon white women angry about Trump’s election to focus on their sisters. She said they need to “figure out how to win them over. … It’s hard labor organizing people, and black people shouldn’t be the only ones doing it.”

{mosads}Despite frustration with the majority support that Trump received from white women in 2016, historical data make the story a bit more complicated. Trump got a smaller percentage of white women’s votes (52 percent) than did Mitt Romney in 2016 (56 percent), John McCain in 2008 (53 percent), or George W. Bush in 2004 (55 percent). The truth is, most white women vote for Republicans — and they have for a long time.

How can Democrats change that historical pattern in the face of a candidate many women find so odious?

Jackie Payne is trying to answer that question. Payne is a longtime activist who struggled with whether, and how, to engage persuadable white women who supported Trump. She wanted to do it in an authentic way that took them seriously, yet didn’t betray her racial justice roots. Her first step was to bring other interested women together to found GALvanize USA, an organization focused on persuading more white women to make common cause with the progressive base on Election Day.

The group has been conducting research and testing strategies in four key states: Maine, Michigan, Washington and Iowa. Their work won’t have much impact in the 2018 election cycle but they hope to learn enough lessons this year and next to move some of these voters in the 2020 presidential cycle.

GALvanize is working from internal data that identify white women as the largest block of persuadable voters. Their husbands, brothers and sons are often far more conservative and, in many of the big swing states, white voters make up a larger proportion of the electorate. Even in 40 years, when no single ethnic group will make up 50 percent of voters, 28 states still will have a white majority. That socially conservative environment can make standing up for progressive politics difficult.

Payne sees women falling into three cohorts: Beacons, Peacemakers and Questioning.

Beacons are what they sound like. They are clear about their beliefs, speaking out on social media and in social gatherings. Their friends and family know where they stand and look to them for information and perspective.

Peacemakers have clear thoughts and views on politics but their familial and social roles keep them from speaking out too loudly. They organize family dinners, such as Thanksgiving, or school events for the kids that conservative family members and friends attend. To keep things from getting too heated, they try to minimize political talk. However, they may privately talk to their daughters and like-minded friends about their beliefs.

The last group is tougher to pin down. They are women waking up to the political debates who mostly outsourced their political stances to others who are more vocal and seem more knowledgeable, including their husbands. Payne says many of these women see politics as divisive and don’t want to widen the gulf.  Getting them to accept progressive politics will mean providing more information and a social infrastructure to support ideas that differ from the prevailing culture they inhabit.

There are several groups organizing the broad coalition of progressive women. That work will be key to persuading progressive women voters to turn out in the next set of elections. Strategists would be mistaken to see those women as a shoo-in for Democrats. Exit-polling data from 2016 reveal that 2 percent of the black women who had voted for Barack Obama chose a third-party candidate and 5 percent of Latinas did the same.

Democrats have to pull off a fancy two-step to win in 2020. Excite the base and persuade white women to choose Democrats, peeling them away from Trump. The impact of the fight over Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination and sexual assault allegations is still unclear, but it’s hard to see how this will help Republicans keep the women they need.

Jamal Simmons is a Democratic strategist who has worked for the Clinton White House, Congress and the Clinton, Gore and Obama presidential campaigns. He is a liberal host for The Hill’s new Hill.TV video division.

Tags Barack Obama Democratic Party Donald Trump Hillary Clinton John McCain Mitt Romney Race in the United States Republican Party U.S. politics

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