White Working Class Women at the Intersection of Gender and Class

No one does a better job of diving into the way demographics are affecting our politics these days than Ron Brownstein. His latest about the crucial role being played by white non-college educated women is no exception.

The much-touted gender gap hasn’t disappeared. Whether looking at whites, blacks or Hispanics, Democrats consistently run better among women than men (or from the other angle, Republicans run better among men than women).

But in the Trump era, the class divide looks more powerful than the gender divide, especially among whites. In the 2016 presidential race, Trump ran much better among white women without a college education than those with an advanced degree. In fact, the gap between the two groups was by far the widest recorded in exit polls since at least the presidential race of 1980.

He is absolutely right that when analyzing the gender gap, class becomes a crucial distinction. The class gap among white women has widened during the Trump era with college-edcuated white women trending more Democrat and non-college-educated women trending more Republican.

But there are a couple of caveats to keep in mind. Gender is still a significant divider. In the 2016 presidential race, Clinton won with women by 13 points and lost with men by 11. The divide among white college-educated women and men was 12 points and between white non-college educated women and men it was 11 points. So looking at class separately from gender doesn’t tell us much.

Similarly, race is a significant factor. Hillary lost with white women by 9 points, but won with black women by an astounding 90 points, and Latinas by 44 points. So race was the major factor that gave Clinton her win among women.

With all of this in mind, Brownstein’s focus on the trends with white non-college educated women is informative. That is because, among the various Republican constituencies, they might be the most amenable to persuasion. In fact, that might already be underway. Keep in mind that Trump won this group with 61 percent of their vote.

Since taking office, Trump has clearly lost some ground with blue-collar white women, who grew highly resistant to his efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. His approval rating among non-college-educated white women in the most recent ABC/Washington Post national poll stood at just 46%, and in a recent national Quinnipiac Poll only 54% said they believed Trump is fit to serve as president.

For Democrats, it might be worth noting that a strong defense of the Affordable Care Act could be key to gaining some inroads with white working class women. In addition, I think Brownstein makes an important point about why the recent revelations about sexual misconduct might be motivating white college educated women, but not white working class women.

…one Democrat closely watching the Alabama race says the allegations against Moore haven’t dislodged more blue-collar women because so many of them consider various forms of harassment an inescapable part of their working life. “Quite frankly, the power structure is so different than from what suburban housewives have to deal with,” said the Democrat. “It’s not a matter that some of these non-college-educated white women don’t think Moore did this, but there is a big part of them that don’t think it’s a big deal compared to what they deal with.”

Let that one sink in for a moment. The power differential for working class white women is so severe that the idea of a Senate candidate stalking and abusing teenage girls isn’t a big deal to them. I hesitate to characterize that any more than Brownstein’s source did. But just as too many feminists have ignored the unique ways that sexism plays out in the lives of women of color, the same might be said for an examination of its role in the lives of white working class women.

This is the problem with the media’s addiction to reporting on perpetrators who come from the ranks of Washington and Hollywood elites. If white working class women have adapted to harassment as being “an inescapable part of their working life,” it might behoove us to listen to more of their stories.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.