We talk endlessly about the youth vote in the Democratic primaries, as Bernie Sanders wins young voters four- and five-to-one. But young voters are typically around one-fifth of electorate; under 30s were 17 percent in New York, according to the exit polls.
But we talk less about the women’s vote, which made up an eye-popping 59 percent of the Democratic vote. That’s three out of five voters, with Clinton winning more than three out of five of those votes (63-37). But hey, they’re not an interesting story line.
Actually that 59 percent number isn’t eye-popping if you’ve done any homework. Women were 58 percent of the Democratic primary vote in New York in 2008, when Clinton beat Barack Obama by one point more than the 16 she topped Sanders by yesterday. And it tracks with other results this year. Women were 58 percent in Florida, 56 percent in Ohio, and 55 percent even in Michigan, which Clinton lost (although she carried women by 51-44 percent). There’s hardly a state where women weren’t at least 55 percent of the vote (in primaries; caucuses don’t have gender breakdowns), and there aren’t many states where Clinton didn’t win among women by double digits.
So what? True, it’s not surprising. But just because something isn’t surprising doesn’t mean it isn’t interesting or that it doesn’t have ramifications. This is, and does.
What’s interesting about it is this: Sanders’s campaign surely knew the 2008 exit-poll data. Don’t you think a candidate might try to craft a message that would appeal more directly to three-fifths of the electorate he’s trying to woo?
Assuming Sanders does lose this nomination, his supporters will complain about the corrupt bosses and the system being rigged and all that. But those who decide to take a slightly more introspective approach to their Monday-morning quarterbacking might ask why their candidate didn’t bother to make any effort to speak more directly to the particular concerns of the groups that are the Democratic Party.
I know, I know—Citizens United affects everybody, health care affects everybody, the big banks affect everybody. You don’t have to tell me. I’m a universalist critic of excessive identity politics going back to the 1990s. At the same time, some measure of identity politics is necessary and good! Different groups of people have actual distinct concerns in life, and politicians are supposed to address them.
When Sanders talks about the Supreme Court, it’s always about Citizens United, and only occasionally about Roe v. Wade. When Clinton went on that riff at the Brooklyn debate about how in all the debates they’d never been asked a single question about Roe, I bet a lot of light bulbs went off over a lot of heads. Sanders didn’t actively alienate women as he did African Americans and their conservative, reality-distorting votes, but he didn’t go out of his way for them either.
As for ramifications, the results tell us a little something about how a general election might play out against Donald Trump or Ted Cruz. It should be pointed out that Trump crushed it among women in New York on the Republican side, since after all as we know he cherishes women and will be the best president for women in history, forget about it. He got 57 percent to John Kasich’s 28 percent and Cruz’s 15 percent. But there, women were only 44 percent of the vote. And in terms of raw vote totals, Clinton hauled in almost exactly twice the number of votes Trump did—1.037 million to 518,000. That means about 665,000 women voted for Clinton, while just 215,000 voted for Trump.
The story has been similar in most contests. In Florida, Trump’s best big state outside of New York, Clinton got 675,000 votes from women, and Trump 464,000. It adds up. Of course Trump is going to dominate her among men overall (she’ll beat him, one assumes, among black and Latino men, just because they’re so overwhelmingly Democratic and, in the case of Latinos, she doesn’t want to throw them out of the country).
The big secret questions of whether Clinton can make it to the White House are these: How much sexism is out there in 2016, in terms of men just not wanting a woman president; and how many women will say “I don’t like that Hillary” a hundred times up until Election Day but then get in the voting booth and think, “Well, woman president...” and pull her lever.
We’re not going to know these things until the morning of Nov. 9. We do know that we’re headed toward a real battle of the sexes this fall.