If psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud were an election analyst today, it would be easy to answer his famous question, “What do women want?” Most women are voting for Hillary Clinton for president, not Donald Trump.
Why do women support Clinton?
Well, obviously not all do. However, majorities of women back Clinton, particularly nonwhite women and college-educated white women, with other groups of women opposed, closely split or slightly supportive.
In part, women’s support is a response to Trump’s misogyny and gendered messages. Trump called women “pigs,” labeled Clinton a “nasty woman,” and criticized and rated women’s bodies and faces. Trump is also an equal opportunity insulter, as he’s disrespected and made fun of a reporter with a disability, a federal judge whose family came from Mexico, a Gold Star family, immigrants and Muslims.
Trump’s statements that Clinton doesn’t have a “presidential look” and lacks “stamina” harks back to anti-suffragists. In 1913, British scientist Almroth Wright wrote that “no country would ever believe in the stamina and firmness of any nation” in which women could vote and hold public office. Wright also claimed women lacked intelligence and had “defective moral equipment.”
Such claims about female incapacity rankle women who have experienced bias in the workplace, especially since Clinton is so obviously prepared, knowledgeable and determined. Nearly all women either have faced sexual harassment or know someone who has. They’ve had to train young men to take promotions they think they deserved. Many professional women have seen their ideas ignored in meetings, then seen the same view given attention when a man says the same thing.
The last straw for some was Trump’s bragging about sexual assault, delivered with crude terms objectifying women. Virtually every woman has had her own experiences with harassment, or certainly has a friend or relative who has had to deal with such behavior. Sen. Susan Collins rejected Trump before the Access Hollywood tape was released, but she’s part of the cohort of female Republican office-holders who unendorsed Trump at twice the rate of their male counterparts. Some of those Republican women will be voting for Clinton.
But women’s support for Clinton is not all about Trump. Since 1980, when the Republican Party repudiated its decades-long support for an Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution, women have leaned more toward Democrats than men.
Many issues matter to women, largely based in women’s experiences with earning less, living longer, and having a greater role in raising children and caring for elderly parents. Democratic policies include continuing and expanding Social Security and health programs (not privatizing them), preserving reproductive choice, making college costs more reasonable for parents and students, expanding health care access and affordability, and protecting our environment, while promoting economic opportunity for all.
In 2016, Hillary Clinton is simultaneously seen as the policy wonk with detailed policy plans and as a person who empathizes with people facing challenges — illness, addiction, immigration issues, education debt, job challenges. Clinton promotes a vision summarized by her campaign as “stronger together,” which contrasts with the more negative, divisive view of the Trump campaign. This combination of pragmatism, personal persistence and social solidarity appeals to both women and men, and fits with values most women hold.
Clinton’s standing could have never come about without activism for her and for women’s fundamental political rights.
In Maine, suffragists worked tirelessly for forty years to get a referendum to allow them to vote in state and local elections. On Feb. 22, 1917, the Maine Senate agreed with the Maine House and unanimously voted to place this provision on the ballot. Gov. Carl Milliken promised to sign it the next day. Women’s suffrage went before the (male) voters in September 1917 and lost nearly two-to-one, with just less than 35 percent support.
It’s now close to 100 years since women won the right to vote across the nation. After 70 years of struggle, the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified in 1920. And if most women have their way, in 2020, there will be a woman president of the United States.
For some women, the historic nature of Clinton’s candidacy is exciting. Indeed, particularly if she wins, it’s likely to motivate more women to run for office. Whatever their reasons, women propel Hillary Clinton and will very likely make her our first woman president.