Posted on January 25, 2021

Why More White Women Didn’t Rally Behind the Biden-Harris Campaign

Julie Kohler, Fortune, January 19, 2021

Tomorrow, Kamala Harris will make history as the first woman, the first Black woman, and the first woman of Asian descent to be inaugurated as Vice President. In her first speech as Vice President–elect last November, Harris took to the stage wearing suffragist white and declared that she stood on the shoulders of generations of women who had paved her path.

And yet, the 2020 election and its aftermath revealed—once again—some ugly truths about women voters, like the fact that a majority of white women did not stand with her. White women’s Republican support was even more pronounced in the Georgia Senate elections, where a mere 31% of white women supported Senators-elect Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff. {snip}


First, we should stop being surprised by the fact that many white women vote Republican. {snip}But while it’s true that women of color are the base of the Democratic Party—with Black women’s Democratic support, in particular, routinely exceeding 90%—white women in fact have narrowly favored the Republican presidential candidate for the better part of 70 years. {snip}

We should also stop being shocked by the fact that white supremacy and the politics of white grievance appeal to many white women. {snip}

But history tells a different story. Race, not gender, has always been the primary driver of white women’s politics. White suffragists worked alongside Black women and men for universal suffrage, but the passage of the 15th Amendment split the movement along racial lines. Elizabeth Cady Stanton referred to Black men as “Sambos” and argued that the amendment “creates an antagonism everywhere between educated, refined women and the lower orders of men, especially in the South.” {snip}

White women have also been complicit in the weaponization of our identities in service of racial terrorism, from lynchings of Black men that white men committed in defense of white women’s supposed “virtue” to today’s Amy Coopers and “Permit Pattys” calling police on Black men who threaten their privilege. {snip}

Second, progressives also need to acknowledge the power of the traditional nuclear family in shaping white women’s perceived political interests. Conservatives have spent decades positioning the white, nuclear family as an ideal deserving of reverence and protection. There’s a reason for this: It pays off for them in the voting booth. Married white women favor Republican candidates at higher rates than their unmarried counterparts. Trump’s evocation of that family ideal through his appeals to “suburban housewives” may well have strengthened his appeals to his base.


But here’s the final truth: Progressive grass-roots organizing can serve as a powerful counterforce. White, college-educated suburban and urban voters swung left last November, by as much as 4.4 percentage points in key counties in swing states—places where college-educated white suburban women, in particular, became politically turbocharged post-2016.


The takeaway of this election and its deadly aftermath is that all of these things can be true at once. White women can and do uphold the white patriarchy. And numbers of white women are movable to something beyond it. We should invest in organizing white women not because they are the most important Democratic base voters (they aren’t) or because we have an irrational belief in the better angels of their nature. For better and worse, white women remain part of the multiracial majority needed to advance equity and justice in this country. {snip}