Sumi Cho

Associate Dean for Non-JC Programs; Professor of Law at DePaul University

Kimberle Crenshaw:

A lot was made about this being the moment when a new coalition would come together. We heard a lot about the suburban women who were going to part company and vote differently. Yet, it appears, if we can believe the national exit polls—that 53% of white women voted for Donald Trump.

Sumi Cho:

Well, I think that troubling statistic tells us that it's a very sorry state of intersectional feminism that we're facing right now. While 53% of white women supporting Donald Trump--in light of his history, comments, and actions--is truly astounding and disturbing, I want to suggest that the racial divide between white women and women of color may actually be worse than it has been portrayed. Why? Because Latinas and Asian American women likely supported Clinton and voted against Trump in far higher numbers than has been reported by the exit polls conducted by the National Election Pool.

How did this happen? Well, exit poll surveys aren’t designed to actually reach representative samples of groups like Asian Americans and Latinos. We end up having one major national exit poll conducted for the National Election Pool, which all the major media outlets use. The method that they use—it’s conducted by Edison Research, in particular— surveys Asian Americans and Latinos in a way that's statistically more likely to capture Republicans. How?

Well, mainstream pollsters too often use too small a sample to be reliable. They don’t construct samples that reflect the diversity within those communities, and they don’t conduct interviews in Asian languages or Spanish at the first contact, or ever. These practices taken together bias the sample, because they tend to miss those in the polls that are more likely to be Democrats—that is, people who are immigrants, native language dominant, lower socioeconomic status, younger voters. If you compare what has been said about the Latino vote, for example, by the National Election Pool, it said that they voted 29% for Trump—which is truly surprising, since Trump wants to build a wall to keep Latinos out—and 65% for Clinton. The National Election Pool reported similar ratios for Asian American voters as 65% Clinton vs. 27% Trump.

But if you look at the Latino Decisions polling, which was done by a number of coalitional groups that have expertise in reaching out to this community, it’s more like 79% Clinton, 18% Trump. When you look at Latinas broken out, it’s even higher, of course, with the gender gap: 86% Clinton, 12% Trump. According to Asian American Decisions, the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) vote was really 75% Clinton, 19% Trump. When you look at AAPI women, it’s 79% Clinton, 17% Trump. And, finally, if you break out Jewish women from the category of white women, Jews voted 71% to 24%, for Clinton over Trump, leaving white Protestant women voting 32% Clinton, 64% Trump.

And so when you go into the narratives captured by the New York Times trying to figure out what Democrats did wrong this election there is a lot missing. You hear these dominant narratives of, there’s an “Ivanka voter,” or there’s this “good father, beautiful family” thesis. Or, “I want my daughter to be a successful businessman” type of thesis. Buried at the back of that same New York Times article on the women who helped Donald Trump to victory, it finally gets to the issue of race—if you’re still reading.

It states that these white women supporters of Trump are troubled “by an America that seems to have embraced multiculturalism and political correctness without question,” and “they said they didn’t understand the Black Lives Matter movement.” They “wondered why Democrats seemed so fixated on transgender access to bathrooms, and tended to be enraged at the way veterans are treated, and violence directed at the police.” And that they were “concerned about immigration and the threat of terrorism.” It helps explain why all of the sexist, misogynistic, xenophobic comments and actions never disqualified Trump from being eligible to be president for these voters, because of their commitment to a very racialized patriarchy.


Kimberle Crenshaw:

Building on your experience in writing about white women in the context of Affirmative Action, this is not a new argument, right?


Sumi Cho:

No, it’s not. We saw a lot of those same narratives in many of the Affirmative Action state ballot initiatives—that is, to outlaw Affirmative Action in particular states, including Washington, California, Michigan, et cetera. What that narrative revealed—because the Democrats then also had a similar strategy of pinning a lot of their strategic hopes on the backs of white women, and were bitterly disappointed when those efforts did not pay off—is that the assumption that white women would vote on the basis of their own individual economic interests really did not play out when you matched it up with the exit polling data.

Instead of actually voting on the basis of  the interest of individual women—whether it be white women’s or women of color’s economic interest, since white women were the greatest beneficiaries of Affirmative Action, at least in the state of Washington—instead, you heard this narrative of, “But I'm concerned about what it will do to my son, my brother, my husband,” et cetera. You have this concept of family that’s highly racialized, that overwhelmed and supplanted the common rational voter approach to voting one’s interests.