A Puzzlement – Why So Many Women Voted for Trump

James T. Berger headshot

James T. Berger
Senior Marketing Writer

Published December 10, 2016

In the wake of this crazy election, one of the reasons pollsters believed Hillary Clinton would win rested on the assumption that women—especially college-educated women—would support Clinton.

This historical election will be studied by marketing and marketing research professionals for years.  Of great interest were the segmentation strategies and results.

After so many derogatory remarks, the release of the hidden video tape and most importantly the opportunity of the election of the first American woman as President, why did so many women abandon Clinton in favor of Trump?

In an article by Harvard Business School Prof. Robin Ely and by visiting Harvard scholar Laura Morgan Roberts entitled “What’s Behind the Unexpected Trump Support from Women.” The article appeared in the Nov. 17, 2016 issue of Harvard Business School “Working Knowledge,” and also appeared in Fortune Magazine.

The statistics showed that 42% of women voted for Trump. Of those, 62% were (mostly white) women without college degrees and 45% were women with college degrees. In such a close election, especially in battleground states, this was clearly a major contributor to Trump’s victory (or in Mrs. Clinton’s case, defeat.)


Roberts and Ely write: “… the Trump campaign tapped into fears and frustrations among white working-class women about diminished possibilities for their husbands and sons to provide for their families.”  They added that many Trump supporter families work in blue-collar occupations including construction, transportation and infrastructure.  Also, many have little contact with immigrants.

As for support among college-educated women, Roberts and Ely pointed out: “While some were likely attracted to Trump’s fiscally conservative policies, research suggests an even more pervasive gender dynamic at play. Women and men have been socialized by family members, educators, and the media to associate leadership with a particular version of masculinity, an image Trump exemplified in his persona as the supremely successful businessman.”

Another major factor was the anti-Clinton backlash: Roberts and Ely write: “…although Clinton won the popular vote, exit polls suggested that more people cast their vote against her than against him. Those who found Trump unlikable but still voted for him numbered 20 percent of his supporters, while only 12 percent of those who said they disliked Clinton still voted for her.”

In The New York Times, Nov. 12 2016, article by Claire Cain Miller, she pointed out that women were not bothered by Trump’s sexist remarks: “Mr. Trump’s sexist remarks didn’t turn large numbers of Republican women away from him.  Seventy percent of women in exit polls said they thought his behavior toward women was a problem, but 30 percent of the people who say that voted for him anyway.

The Times quoted University of Wisconsin Prof. Kathleen Dolan: “People can have attitudes about these sort of gendered things, and they still will rarely rise to the level of importance in their calculations. There is no better test than this election.”

The Guardian in an article entitled: “Why did women vote for Trump? Because Misogyny is Not a Male-Only Attribute,” by Susanne Moore points out:

“Clearly the polls were wrong and, worryingly, what women were telling pollsters was not true. But, early on, some warnings were ignored because that revealed a kind of cognitive dissonance.  Back in May, in impeccably liberal Oregon, where Bernie Sanders swept all but one county in the primaries, 27% of women said they would vote for Trump.  By then, we could see the peculiar misogyny of your female Sanders supporters.

They did not just think Clinton was flawed, but akin to Satan. As they were getting Bernie’s face tattooed onto their bodies, they repeatedly told us that Clinton’s gender did not matter. All the guff about a first female president was just guff; for them, Clinton was a robotic corporate shill.”

About The Author

James T. Berger headshot
James T. Berger, Senior Marketing Writer of The Wiglaf Journal, through his Northbrook-based firm, James T. Berger/Market Strategies, offers a broad range of marketing communications, research and strategic planning consulting services. In addition, he provides expert services to intellectual property attorneys in the area of trademark infringement litigation. An adjunct professor of marketing at Roosevelt University, he previously has taught at Northwestern University, DePaul University, University of Illinois at Chicago and The Lake Forest Graduate School of Management. He holds degrees from the University of Michigan (BA), Northwestern University (MS) and the University of Chicago (MBA). Berger is an often-published free lance business writer who has developed more than 100 published articles in the last eight years. For more information, visit www.jamesberger.net or telephone him at (847) 328-9633.