Coming out of the 2016 presidential election upset in which Republican candidate Donald Trump won over Democratic candidate, and first woman to represent a major party in a national election, Hillary Clinton, one question still largely pressing on many Americans is this- how could Trump have won over 50% of white women voters? During his time on the campaign trail, Trump suffered a multitude of scandals, most which seemingly targeted and alienated his potential women voters. Yet, despite news cycle after news cycle of reports on Trump's often blatant sexism, white women as a demographic went for Trump with 53% of the vote. Largely, the breakdown in white women's voting for the 2016 election came down to the individual's education level, with majority of white women votes for Trump coming from those without a college-degree. But even with college education as a factor, Trump's win still doesn't make sense considering the level and intensity of sexism he displayed, both during the primaries and after he won the Republican nomination.
So ultimately, the real question here becomes this-how and why did race play more of a role for white women in electing Donald Trump than gender did? There are a few pieces to this puzzle.
The white women who voted for Trump in 2016 are largely members of the white working class, meaning that past influences on that demographic, such as former Republican president Richard Nixon's "Southern Strategy", have a noticeable impact on voting patterns. Back in the 1970's, Nixon's campaign employed a strategy, not unlike Trump's, which essentially sought to break up the Democratic coalition through the removal of the working class by branding the party as that of minorities, indicating to whites that Democrats weren't really 'working for them'. Through this narrative change, Nixon not only changed how Democrats were perceived, he also changed how they acted. In 2008 and 2012, former Democratic president Barack Obama's campaign succeed largely through coalitions of young people and minorities, with emphasis on 'metropolitan' America. Of course Obama included the white working class in his Democratic platform, but they were not as central a piece as they had been previously. Ultimately, this slip in status for the white working class left the demographic open to influence- one that Donald Trump was able to take advantage of.
“The rationale for [Trump’s] candidacy is that he is the champion of the hardworking Americans that the elitists have left behind. But many of those hardworking Americans are women.” -John J. Pitney Jr.
The changing relevancy of the white working class was so profound in the 2016 election, that Clinton's main primary rival, Bernie Sanders, centered his campaign around progressive reforms which appealed directly to that demographic.
While Sanders was able to push Clinton more towards his platform after his concession in the primary, Trump was likely able to garner support from white working class people who felt as though Sanders's loss was a snub from the Democratic party.
GENDER AS A POINT OF CONTENTION
Since the inception of Clinton's 2016 campaign, and even before then, one of the biggest pressures on women voters has been to avoid voting based simply on gender. Conservative news outlets, which typically have particular disdain for identity politics, were especially good at pushing this narrative on to women.
When conservatives (and even leftist Sanders supporters) made pleas for women to avoid the "gender card", as it was dubbed, women began to feel pushed away from casting a ballot for Clinton for fear that they would look stupid or that they lacked integrity. This was reflected in many women's explanations for why Clinton would not be receiving their votes, such as Susan Sarandon's comment that she "doesn't vote with [her] vagina", or this collection of signs, memes, and other assorted anti-Clinton memorabilia:
A lot of this sort of anti-Clinton, anti-gender card motivation was really pushed forth by the concept of candidate based voting, which has been a growing trend in the United States since around the time Nixon utilized the "Southern Strategy". The polarization of parties and rise of independent voters, in part due to Nixon's attempt to realign southern voters, has helped spur the US into an era in which an individual is appointed more based on themselves than their policies.
HOW RACE FACTORS IN
One of Donald Trump's most vocal messages during his campaign was that he was going to 'restore law and order', billing himself as the man who would save Americans from terrorists, save American jobs from illegal immigrants, as well as to alleviate racial tensions which have spurred protests and riots in recent years. These are all issues which particularly alarm whites, and specifically the white working class, reflected loudly by many conservative facets.