This election has been…well, terrible, for lack of a better word. From the countless accusations of sexual harassment, to the endless allegations of corruption and the never-ending name-calling, it has been both divisive and depressing. The American Psychological Association found that most Americans are stressed by the election. But there have been a few silver-lining moments. Among them, the fact that this election has managed to bring together groups that previous elections have not.
Yes, I’m serious. As hard as it may be to believe, according to the numbers, the most divisive presidential election in recent memory will likely go down in history for its ability to unite. Here’s what I mean.
While previous elections have been noted for the clearly concentrated electoral power of certain disenfranchised voting blocs like “the black vote,” women have voted in different enough ways that they were split off into distinct groups. Remember “soccer moms”? Though President Obama carried black women he actually lost white women voters in 2012, who preferred Mitt Romney. The gap between other women voters and white women actually led The New Yorker to run the headline, “What’s up with White Women? They Voted for Romney Too.”
But this gap was not specific to President Obama. The only Democratic presidential candidate to win more white women voters than his Republican counterpart since 1972 has been Bill Clinton. Now his wife has a chance to do it again, only it’s looking like Hillary Clinton may just manage to consolidate the women’s vote in a way we haven’t seen before. Because as awful as the 2016 election has been one thing it seems to have finally done is reminded women across race and class lines that we have much more in common than some of us thought.
In previous election cycles the differences between married and unmarried women has been striking. For instance, married women have traditionally been more likely to vote in presidential and midterm elections. Today marriage is increasingly linked to socio-economic status, as well as race. Those getting married today are more likely to be college educated and those remaining married are more likely to be wealthy. They are also more likely to be white.
Married women have tended to focus more on issues like the economy in the voting booth, whereas unmarried women have traditionally been more engaged in social issues like birth control access and abortion rights.
This isn’t all that surprising. Marriage tends to provide a measure of economic stability that makes it possible to view politics and policy through the lens of a team. In other words, if your husband earns six figures and expresses concern about a particular candidate’s tax policy, that is an issue you may surmise affects you both. Similarly, if you are in a stable marriage you may be concerned about an unplanned pregnancy, but not as concerned as an unmarried single mother already struggling to support a child, or children, on her own. Pollster Celinda Lake has previously noted that while married women tend to influence their husbands on local contests, married men have historically swayed their wives to back their presidential choice.
But the 2016 election appears to have finally obliterated this gulf in worldview. There is a huge gap between married couples this election cycle—with more married white women joining their sisters in opposition to Trump. Before the damning Access Hollywood audio became public there was a more than 20-point gap in how married couples viewed the two major presidential candidates this year—with the majority of married women favoring Hillary and the majority of men favoring Trump.
So why is this news worth celebrating?
Because historically, there has been an immense chasm—and not just a political one—between well-to-do white women, and the women of color they often relied on to care for their children, or elderly parents or homes. Or even the ones they worked with in their offices but were unlikely to socialize with outside of it. There was an unspoken yet very significant ocean separating these two groups. That ocean was one in which if you are a white female married to a powerful or economically successful man, you were less vulnerable than the woman of color who you may know, who is one paycheck away from poverty. (And who also earns less per hour than you do.)
What this election exposed, from the Access Hollywood audio to Gretchen Carlson and Megyn Kelly’s recent admissions of sexual harassment while working as star anchors—is that ultimately every woman is one unenlightened man away from being vulnerable to unemployment, poverty, or simply having her sense of self-worth destroyed.
This is a vulnerability most men will never know and cannot comprehend. They may have found Donald Trump’s recorded comments distasteful (particularly as they were aimed at a married white woman) but they don’t believe their wives or daughters will ever be in danger from the Donald Trumps of the world—not with them there to protect them after all. Therefore they are shocked and dismayed that their wives are not on board to vote for the interests of the family “team” this election. What they don’t realize is that their wives have simply woken up to the fact that their teammates this time around are the other women they once thought they had very little in common with. Women who understand the challenges and triumphs that come with being a woman, even in 2016, even if you are educated, even if you are wealthy, even if you are married—far more than their husbands ever will.