If not for white women, Donald Trump might not have been elected president. Fifty-three-percent of white female voters chose Trump in the 2016 election, according to an oft-cited (and oft-pondered) exit poll, compared to only 4 percent of Black women and 25 percent of Latinas. But will a majority of white women support the president a second time? It’s a question that could be a key factor in determining the outcome in 2020.
The polls provided statistics, but not insight into the motivations behind decisions at the ballot box. Vogue spoke with three white female voters—a young professional, an executive approaching retirement, and a wife and mother in a conservative military community, all of whom requested anonymity—about why they voted for Trump in 2016. Some were following the guidance of boyfriends, fathers, and Facebook feeds. Others were concerned about guns and taxes. Here, they explain why they’ve since flipped and decided to support Joe Biden.
Social media manager, 31; Washington, D.C.
In 2016, I had just moved to D.C. from Texas. I went to college in Georgia and I moved back home after college, so I spent the first 27 years of my life in the South. I was still very heavily influenced by my conservative social media feed and my family. That was pretty much my source of news and information.
My dad manages money for a living. He said Trump would be better for business. I worked in a job that promoted America as an international travel destination because, in the years since 9/11, we had lost a lot of tourism. I falsely assumed that Trump, being a hotel guy, would support this. I’m Jewish, and a lot of people said Trump was better for Israel.
But I’ll be honest, a lot of it was an anti-Hillary sentiment. People were saying that she wouldn’t be good for national security. This is stuff that I’ve since learned is ridiculous, but I was being told that she had a lot of foreign relationships and that she didn’t always have America’s best interests at heart. They started throwing around the fact that she was being paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to speak at Goldman Sachs. That “Crooked Hillary” branding was so pervasive. Everyone started thinking: Trump’s putting America first.
When you’re given a female candidate, the natural inclination is to vote for her. You want to look up to women who are breaking glass ceilings. [Hillary] just isn’t one that I’m looking up to. I was still a little bit torn going into the election, and the last text message I got was from somebody saying, “She will sell our country down the river.”
The Access Hollywood tape did bother me—of course it bothered me. But I had a reckoning with myself. I was like: This president is not going to be the moral compass. But if you’re going to vote for a candidate that’s not going to be your stereotypical politician, then he’s not going to be stereotypical in any way. I was like: Kids, for four years or maybe eight years, they’re going to have to find moral leaders elsewhere. He never claimed to be the Dalai Lama.
I really did not think he would win. I was like, Hillary’s gonna win, obviously, but what if I just secretly buck the system and vote for Trump? I didn’t tell a lot of people. It was kind of embarrassing. I was at an election party with a bunch of Jewish Democrats in D.C. We had a map that we all colored in with a blue or red marker as the states were called, and as a joke, I was like, “Oh, I’m from Texas. I’ll take the red marker,” thinking that I was going to color no states. And then one after the other went to Trump. Finally, my friends were like, “We’re going home. Stop coloring.” So I went to hang out with a bunch of Southerners and it was comfortable and reminded me of home.
Over the past four years, this is going to sound weird, because it goes against what I said previously, he really embarrassed me to be an American on a national and international stage. I traveled a lot for work. America used to be the biggest world power. Now we’re a laughingstock. The way that he interacted with Angela Merkel … The way that he’s handled himself as a leader, it’s so shameful. He’s gone way, way, way more right. From what I understood, he was friends with some of the Democrat, Jewish, and non-Jewish New Yorkers. The rhetoric about white supremacy has shaken me.
I know friends’ parents who I’ve sat with at dinners who are major Trump supporters, and I just listen. I don’t need to fight. I’m never going to change their minds. One of the reasons why I think a lot of people are in this mess is because they didn’t do their own research, myself included. I’m such a different person—coming to D.C., living here for four years, learning how ask more questions, create informed opinions. Now I can say this: “Trump saying that Jared Kushner is going to create peace in the Middle East. Like, that’s preposterous, you know?”
You assume that other people know more than you do. My dad works in finance. He obviously knows more than me, but you can’t just lean on reasoning like: my husband works in this industry, or my dad works in this, or this guy mansplained this to me… We just get so easily persuaded.
I always have historically voted Republican, but I didn’t like the direction the party was going. I like Mitt Romney. I liked Nikki Haley. There are certain people in the party that I would be more comfortable supporting, but not Trump. I love Biden. I think, at his core, he’s a very good person. He is so family-oriented. Jill is such a strong women’s figure. I actually was pro-Mayor Pete, but I knew he probably wouldn’t go far.
My parents are not Trump supporters this time around. He’s messing with our whole society, trying to put us back in the Dark Ages. I think a lot of people that I’m close to who voted for him won’t be voting for him again.
HR executive, 62; New York
I’ve been a Republican since I registered to vote in high school. I don’t always vote by party line. I vote by what is important to me. In 2016, I took a leap of faith that Donald Trump would be the guy that could potentially make some big changes because he was not a politician. I mean, he had some baggage, but I thought: If anybody could do it, he could. So I voted for him.
He was a bit of a blowhard and a bully. The whole Billy Bush thing, I didn’t have a lot of time to think about it because it happened toward the end of the election. I always knew he had several wives and you read the story about Marla Maples on the ski slope. That wasn’t really the issue. I always went back to: He’s a successful business person. He had run successful businesses, albeit some of them went to bankruptcy or whatever. I thought that he could be a breath of fresh air in Washington.
I didn’t like Hillary. I was really put off by the whole email thing, and she had a lot of baggage, too. I really did not agree when they brought up Bill, because I didn’t think that should be part of her narrative to be president, but it sort of is. I saw her as dishonest. I saw her as the embodiment of the Democratic Party. What’s going to happen with social services and healthcare and how is it going to affect my taxes? I saw the opposite of what I saw in Trump. Four years ago, I was 58 looking toward retirement.
To be honest, if Hillary Clinton had done her Howard Stern interview before the election, I probably would have voted for her. She was a different person, spilling her guts. I mean, she is smart. She explained a lot of things. She talked a lot about her time in government as secretary of state. She became very endearing to me. She seemed likable.
I wasn’t 100 percent sure about Trump; however, being Republican, worrying about taxes, working for corporate America, I said, “How bad could this be? He will be surrounded by people who know what they’re doing.”
The day of the inauguration, when he is all of a sudden talking about crowds that weren’t there, I’m like: What is going on? What is he talking about? It started me going, This is one of those guys who will things to happen. I’ve been in many, many rooms with many, many high-level people who have a vision and it’s almost like they can hypnotize people, and it becomes reality. It’s like a vortex they get sucked into. I can’t remember his name, but he had his press secretary—Sean Spicer!—how must he feel, standing up there lying?
This adolescent bully behavior turned me off real early on. He had no respect for the office. I looked at him as a narcissist. I looked at him as this misogynist and that didn’t get any better. A lot of it got worse. The leader of the free world is standing up there calling Nancy Pelosi really bad names. Last week, he called [Senator Elizabeth Warren] Pocahontas again.
Good leaders will surround themselves with people who actually cover their blind spots. He just fires them if he doesn’t like it. The lack of listening to the scientists—poor [Anthony] Fauci and Deborah Birx. COVID was the nail in the coffin. I mean, how can somebody get it, walk up the [White House] stairs and take off the mask? His press secretary, another hypnotized person, is out front with no mask on talking to reporters, and she tests positive the next day.
He’ll tell everybody that because the stock market is doing well, the economy is great. But look at all the businesses that are closing. Did we do the right thing, up until COVID, in terms of the economy? Yeah. But I just was so turned off. I think his diehard supporters are crazy. I don’t mean that figuratively. They’re right-wing extremists. How do you sit in at a rally and say that COVID is not real?
I still have a girlfriend who loves Trump and we can’t even talk about it. I’m like, “How can you feel good about the fact that he is exhibiting this behavior, and our children, our grandchildren, are seeing this? How is that okay?” I have a little grandson, and I remember always telling my son, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” And I always would say to him, “I don’t care what you are, but you need to be a good person.”
I already voted for Joe Biden. My husband is high-risk, so we did absentee ballots. It felt really good. It wasn’t a party issue. It was, “I got to vote for somebody who’s not a bad guy.” It’s starting to feel like a dictatorship, where the guy living in the big house on the hill is just going to do what he wants to do. No matter what, this is a democracy.
Engineer, 32; Virginia
I grew up and I currently live in a really big military town. In 2016, I was dating a guy who was a former Navy Seal, so he was just completely conservative. He knew a ton about politics. He knew so much more than I did. I was 27.
Everyone in our friend group was conservative. So many of my friends and their spouses, everyone was in the military. “Trump supports the military,” and that was it. People glossed over the fact that Trump spoke horribly about John McCain. I’ve never wanted to support a politician that wasn’t for the military, which, I feel like everyone’s for the military, it’s just a matter of how big that military is. That wasn’t a factor that I understood at the time.
I just trusted my boyfriend’s judgment. My father was the same way. Growing up, all I ever heard was just taxes, taxes, taxes. If you want to keep more of the money you work hard for, go Republican. I had just gotten into the workforce. My career was going great. And I was like, Well, of course, I don’t want to be taxed heavily. You just really trust your people, whether it’s your partner or your parents. You think: Because they do it, I should do it.
I’m a big perfectionist and I’m an only child, super driven, and I’m always striving to make sure my parents are happy with me. Voting for Trump was just another way, you know? Growing up, nobody said, “We need to be conscious of the environment.” I don’t think my parents, to this day, recycle. Some of my earliest memories with my dad are listening to Rush Limbaugh on talk radio. And so I went to the polls in 2016 thinking I was supporting the military, and then I was concerned about taxes and that Democrats were going to steal all my guns. I didn’t even own a gun. It was just this mindset that was really hammered in.
My parents always say, “Do you want a mediocre doctor with a good bedside manner, or do you want an amazing doctor with a shitty bedside manner?” That’s how they reconcile Trump’s behavior.
I think a lot of people my age voted for Trump because they refused to vote for Hillary Clinton. I felt that a female on the ballot was in itself amazing, but I know my husband (I’ve since gotten married, not to my ex-boyfriend from 2016), he voted for Trump solely because he hated Hillary. Actually, that was the first lie he ever told me in our relationship. He told me he voted for Gary Johnson because he didn’t want me to hate him. The last election was a shit show. I kinda wish I did vote for Gary Johnson.
The biggest reason that I’ve changed my vote is that I’ve realized my viewpoints. Now that I’m older, and a mother, I see which topics matter to me, and it’s not taxes and guns. It’s interesting to grow up and become your own person, and you’re like: Wait, I actually don’t care about these three things just being hammered in my head. Actually, I care about other people and their humanity.
I always thought the way Republicans treated reproductive rights was kind of fucked up. But then in the back of my mind, I’m thinking: Oh, but I don’t want to be taxed. I started reading more stories about women. I knew friends who needed to be able to choose to have a baby or not have a baby, and I started to think it was really disturbing that there were men who felt one way or another about my body and what I do with it.
You break away and you realize that politics doesn’t have to do with making your parents proud. Growing up, my parents never talked to me about women’s rights or equality. Today, as a mother in my early 30s, I care. I care about the gay community. I care about transgender people. I care about the environment—that’s a huge one for me because I work in sustainability. I’m more sympathetic to my neighbor. I’m not so much thinking about myself all the time.
I started to realize that what matters to me doesn’t align with a Republican candidate. Yes, I do like the economy piece, but I also care about professionalism. I care about the bedside manner. I care that when my president speaks, he’s not offending masses of marginalized people. I couldn’t even listen to Trump. He just was so ugly and not what I think of when I think of a leader, someone like Barack Obama or even George Bush. You think about the world you want your children to grow up in. The Black Lives Matter stuff, talking about people who are rioting and using derogatory terms to describe them, it doesn’t unite our country. It just divides us. All my conservative friends are seeing is that things are being looted and stolen. I mean, people hold on to his words.
Every friend I have, probably, is conservative. A lot of the women are just conservative because their spouses are. It’s a lot of blind trust, and it’s unfortunate that that amounts to a large number of voters just blindly trusting their spouse. It’s almost like they struggle to think for themselves.
My husband grew up in the same bubble I did. Socially, he’s pretty liberal, but economically, he’s definitely conservative. I’m probably the first person he’s ever talked to that’s open-minded. When I met him, I remember he was terrified of gay people, because he didn’t know anyone that was gay. I’m like, “Well let me introduce you to my awesome gay friends,” and now he’s so different. My husband and I butt heads on things, but then he’ll be like, “I’m a feminist, I believe in women’s rights.” It was just an exposure thing, which is the terrifying thing about growing up in towns like these. That’s what I lose sleep over at night. I don’t really want to raise my children in the same environment that I grew up in because it’s just a bunch of like-minded, narrow thoughts. I want more culture for them.
I’ve never voted Democrat in the presidential election until this one. And now my whole family knows. If you go to my dad’s house right now, he’s got Trump flags all in the yard. We can’t actually speak about politics. But I’m at the point where these issues are important to me and I can sleep at night. Now, if I get in the car and Rush Limbaugh is on, I have to get out of the car.
I struggle with the military stuff now when it comes to Trump, because I think of my own children, and I think about if I were sending them into the military and they were going overseas, I think about the leader that is leading them. I don’t think Trump would inspire many young people to fight for our country, and that’s a major loss.
I like Biden and what he stands for on the majority of issues, but I’m also absolutely not giving my vote to Trump. I don’t want to say it could’ve been anyone, but there’s no way in hell I would vote for Trump.