Lesson 5: Women voters are not a monolithic bloc. (Neither are men.)

One year ago, the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University and the Barbara Lee Family Foundation launched Presidential Gender Watch 2016, a nonpartisan project to track, analyze, and illuminate gender dynamics in the 2016 presidential election. The goal of the project was – and remains – to lend expert analysis to the dialogue around gender throughout the election season. With just over 200 days until Election Day, it’s worth taking stock of what we’ve been up to. Over the next week, we will post 5 key lessons learned. Today, we review lesson number five (our final lesson): Women voters are not a monolithic bloc. Neither are men.  (See hyperlinks for full analyses written over the past year.)

In candidate-centered elections like ours, it’s easy to ignore the ways in which gender permeates other aspects of – and actors in – the presidential campaign. We are committed to paying particular attention to gender differences among voters, tracking gender gaps in presidential polling for the primary and general elections. We’ve also analyzed gender differences in primary exit polls to date, demonstrating, for example, the importance of women to Clinton’s success in Democratic contests thus far. But the gendered dimensions of Clinton’s success is oversimplified if women voters are discussed as a monolithic bloc.

20FIRSTDRAFT-Praeli-tmagArticleIn a February 2016 conference call with experts, we challenged this notion and detailed the complexities among women voters, particularly along ideological and racial/ethnic lines. That call built on written analyses from PGW guest experts like Dr. Melissa Deckman, who wrote about Donald Trump’s support among Tea Party women. When we launched Presidential Gender Watch, Higher Heights’ co-founders Glynda Carr and Kimberly Peeler Allen highlighted the power of Black women’s votes in presidential politics, something that we have further confirmed in analyses of Black women voters’ influence in the Democratic primaries to date. Likewise, Dr. Anna Sampaio wrote about the distinct demands of Latina voters in this election, and Dr. Christina Bejarano analyzed the importance of candidates’ racial identity and appeals to Latina voters.

This diversity among women is tied to differences in policy priorities and positions. Those policy and partisan differences are much more likely to shape candidate preference than is candidate gender, despite claims of “vagina voters” in 2016. Of course, the question of whether women do, or should, vote for women because they are women has been the subject of much debate since the start of this race. Adrienne Kimmell weighed in on the problematic frames often employed in these conversations, writing, “Arguing that gender is one of the merits on which candidates may be evaluated does not promote identity over merit; instead, it presumes there is merit in identity.” This analysis evidences the nuance of gender PGW seeks to illuminate in all aspects of the 2016 race, complicating questions, claims, and conclusions that otherwise simplify or overlook the gendered dimensions of today’s presidential politics.