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'Feminist' platform can be electorally risky

An illustration of feminist votes being dumped in the ballot box.ANN ARBOR—The outcome of the contentious 2016 presidential election still baffles many political pundits, scholars and voters.

And the topic is expected to dissected by scholars—including University of Michigan expert Nicholas Valentino and his students Carly Wayne and Marzia Oceno​—during this week's Midwest Political Science Association conference in Chicago.

Valentino, who studies race and ethnicity in politics, as well as political psychology, said Donald Trump's win raises questions regarding female voters and women vying for political office in the future.

For example, why did so many women vote for a business man​ accused of harassment by nearly a dozen women,​ who had admitted to what many would consider sexual assault, ​and whose policies undermine women's health and reproductive choice?

"The answer seems to be that traditional gender attitudes and anger about the demands feminists are making for change remain powerful obstacles for progressive female candidates in the modern era," Valentino said.

At this week's conference, Valentino and his graduate students will present their analysis in a paper titled "Mobilizing sexism: The interaction of emotion and gender attitudes in the 2016 U.S. presidential election."

Valentino says that one lesson learned from the elections is that campaigning explicitly on a feminist platform—which Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton did—is electorally risky. Clinton won the popular vote by more than 2 percent, but lost handily to Trump who secured 307 electoral votes.

"We would have expected Clinton to generate a much larger gender gap in her favor than previous Democrats did, but it was in fact very similar to past races," Valentino said.

This means that many women—especially white women, and even many with ​
​college educations—voted for Trump.

"There is no way he would have won without that support," Valentino said.

Valentino and researchers created several studies that examined issues such as sexism, authoritarianism and ethnocentrism by using American National Election Studies data. The representative sample included more than 700 adults who responded last summer to questions about their political attitudes and opinions regarding the presidential candidates.

For instance, subjects were asked how strongly they agreed or disagreed with statements such as "many women are actually seeking special favors, such as hiring policies that favor them over men, under the guise of asking for equality" or "feminists are making entirely reasonably demands of men."

The findings indicate a strong relationship between sexism and support for Trump.

"We did find that sexism was most influential among white men—the core of Trump's coalition," Valentino said. "However, our survey suggested that sexism played a smaller but still significant role in candidate evaluations for white women as well."

Trump supporters not only had problems with Clinton's gender, but to her outspoken advocacy on behalf of feminism and women's issues, he said.

"The first strongly feminist-minded woman to run for president on a major party ticket was met with a great deal of angry rhetoric on the right throughout the campaign," Valentino said. "That anger, we think, may not only have powerfully catalyzed support for Trump but also helped to drive his supporters to the polls."

Ethnocentrism, which describes how a person judges other groups​ relative to their own ethnicity, was also​ consistently powerful among white respondents, he said.

During the campaign, much of the discussion about Trump's surprising success turned on the powerful draw of his strong-arm rhetoric among those with authoritarian personality tendencies, he said. In addition, most pundits speculated that fearmongering about immigrants and terrorists may have been his most effective rhetorical strategy.

​However, "anger is far more likely to be experienced by citizens who feel threatened by social outgroups, such as immigrants, minorities, and feminists. Further, this anger is highly mobilizing," Valentino said.

 

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