In 2016, white women voted for Trump. In 2012, they voted for Romney. In 2008, they voted for McCain and George W. Bush in 2004. Last night, they broke for Roy Moore, a man who in his thirties was banned from the Gadsden mall for hassling teenage girls for dates. And yet, white women still voted for him, as though they’d forgotten they were ever teenage girls.
White men did the same thing each time, but harder.
Democrat Doug Jones’ shocking victory in the Alabama Senate race Tuesday was made possible by a host of factors, and despite others. He won both because of and despite women. He won despite white men.
Moore, a malevolent Bible-thumping racist cowpoke who had a track record of caring more about the bodily autonomy of statues than he did of teenage girls, certainly didn’t help his own cause. He is married to a woman named Kayla, who publicly advocated for her husband in the waning days of the campaign by dismissing claims the couple is anti-Semitic, pointing out that “one of [their] lawyers is a Jew.”
Jones’ own record of public service, of securing convictions for the men responsible for killing four little girls in an act of racist terrorism half a century ago, certainly helped. And his vanilla decency in the face of the tacky, backward extremism on the other side made him a safe choice.
There was the quiet and impressive ground-level get-out-the-vote campaign designed to get black voters to the polls. And, acting out of both a righteous disdain for Moore and trust of Jones, they showed up, casting 30 percent of the votes. Black women in particular supported Jones over Roy Moore, with exit polling indicating that 99 percent of them voted for the Democrat. And 96 percent of black men voted for Jones. That helped Jones, a lot.
Jones won despite white women choosing Moore over Jones. However, according to exit polling data, 35 percent of white women voted for the Democratic candidate—more than double the percentage who supported Barack Obama in 2012. This echos recent stirrings among pollsters that indicate that white female Trump voters might be experiencing some buyer’s remorse and peeling off to join the Democrats. That helped Jones, a little.
Unless you count Alabama football coach Nick Saban, who received 19,000 write-in votes, nearly enough to close the gap between Jones and Moore, white men hardly helped Doug Jones at all. Most white men’s votes were effectively canceled out by the votes of black men and women.
Exit polling implies that the older and whiter an Alabaman was, the more likely they were to vote for Moore. Add maleness and Moore—who has said in the past that lots of problems came with the constitutional amendments that granted women and black people the right to vote—was a near-lock. But only 10 or so percentage points separated white men and women’s voting patterns.
All this despite the fact that Jones ran on Moore’s history of sexual creepiness toward underage girls. One might think that Jones’ line of attack would have had more impact on women’s votes overall than it did, or more impact on the votes of white men who have, at some point in their lives, known or cared about a human woman. But the Alabama vote was split down racial instead of gender lines. White voters either didn’t believe that Moore had molested a 14-year-old, or that he had a history of jaw-dropping racism and sexism, or they didn’t care.
After every election, there’s a new round of hand-wringing over the white woman vote. What is wrong with white women? Why do they keep doing this? With the exception of the occasional Gail Collins column, white men usually get off the hook for doing the same thing.
The majority of white female voters, time and time again, have not voted to serve the best interests of their gender and certainly appear to be voting along racial lines. As we saw Tuesday, it takes literal child molestation to invoke the kind of empathy necessary to move even a tiny number of white women’s votes. The better question is: Why is this still surprising?
See you for the next round of surprised and shocked takes on this in 2018.