Two years into the Trump administration, there is no mistaking what Republicans stand for: xenophobia, racism, and misogyny. And, it’s clear from Tuesday’s election, that white women largely continue to embrace that platform and vote to hand Republicans more power to accomplish those ends. White women know very well that a vote for Republicans is a vote to preserve their privilege, to protect whiteness.
According to exit polling data from Tuesday’s midterm election, white women narrowly voted for Republicans over Democrats—50 percent to 47 percent, continuing to be the only group of women to vote majority Republican. Contrast those numbers with women of color: According to a Wall Street Journal exit poll, 92 percent of black women and 68 percent of Latinx women across the country voted for Democrats. Overall, 80 percent of nonwhite women voted for Democrats.
Though these dynamics are nothing new—and in fact go back decades—we saw, once again, in the lead up the midterms, the media inflate a narrative that white women have somehow soured on Trump. In January, the Washington Post’s site for women, the Lily, reported that Trump is losing the approval of white women. After the national disgrace that was Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, a Morning Consult/Politico poll found that Trump’s support among Republican women—an overwhelming majority of whom are white—fell by 19 points (though nearly 50 percent of white women believed Kavanaugh should have been confirmed). In the aftermath, the Atlantic proclaimed: “Here’s Why White Women Are Abandoning the GOP.” Over and over again, pundits argued that white women are fed up with Trump; describing them as a toss-up; as the persuadable electorate; the way for Democrats to beat Trump in the midterms and beyond.
But that was an oversell. Yes, according to ABC exit polls, college-educated white women, which voted for Clinton by 10 points in 2016, are “favoring Democratic House candidates by 23 points, 61-38 percent.” But take, for example, Democratic Michigan Governor-Elect Gretchen Whitmer’s defeat over Republican Bill Schuette, an “enemy of civil rights,” according to the Nation: 56 percent of white women voted for Whitmer, while 93 percent of black women turned out for her.
Similarly, in Texas, 95 percent of black women voted for Beto O’Rourke while 59 percent of white women voted for Ted Cruz. White women may be “angrier” than they were in 2016, but that hasn’t led to a complete repudiation of Trump, the Republican party, or white nationalism. In Florida, the Trump-approved Republican nominee Ron DeSantis won the governor’s race by a slim margin, attracting roughly 51 percent of white women, according to exit polling. In Georgia, Stacey Abrams ran on a progressive platform emphasizing maternal healthcare and economic equality, and was poised to make history as the first black woman governor in the U.S. Her opponent, Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp, is one of the biggest enemies of voting rights in the country and has actively suppressed the black vote. While 97 percent of black women voted for Abrams, 76 percent of white women voted for Kemp. Instead of a blue wave fueled by the rage of suburban white women, white women remained relatively loyal, inching only slightly towards Democrats. In Alabama’s special election last year, 63 percent of white women voted for Senate candidate Roy Moore, a disgraced judge and alleged pedophile, while 98 percent of black women voted for Moore’s Democratic opponent, Doug Jones. White women remain the group of women most likely to vote for the Republican agenda, and the largest group of women to support Trump. This is the contemporary expression of an enduring pattern: During the Civil Rights Era, white women were “segregation’s constant gardeners,” Western Carolina University history professor Elizabeth Gillespie McRae wrote in Mothers of Massive Resistance: White Women and the Politics of White Supremacy.
The rage of white women won’t change the fate of America, nor will it change the fate of the Democratic party. Rather than believing the myth that the loyalties of polite, suburban white women can be won, or at least swayed by the crass hostilities of Trump, Democrats would be wise to empower and build the upon the base that consistently turns out for them: women of color. It’s clear from some of Tuesday’s more satisfying victories, and from decades of elections before it, that the future of the Democratic party is in its real base, not the fictional suburban white woman who is somehow always on her way but never arrives.