The XX Factor

Actually, White Women Voted for Ken Cuccinelli

Terry McAuliffe got most of the women, but not most of the white women.

Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

In wake of Ken Cuccinelli’s gubernatorial loss in Virginia, Dahlia Lithwick is absolutely right to argue that a politician who “shamed, marginalized, and patronized women and other minorities was met with a ‘no.’” And certainly, female support helped Terry McAuliffe squeak across the finish line, as a discomforting 48 percent of male voters supported Cuccinelli and his agenda of controlling the uteruses of Virginia. That said, looking over the exit polls published by the New York Times, a more complex picture emerges.

The real story here is not men vs. women. It’s white voters vs. black voters and working class vs. middle class voters. The most startling fact of all: The majority of white women, 54 percent, in the state of Virginia voted in favor of Cuccinelli.

The much-ballyhooed gender gap basically boils down to this: A small percentage more of white women than white men consistently vote for Democrats. Put a bunch of white people in a room together, and a handful more of the women than men will vote for the Democrat, even if most of the women, like most of the men, vote Republican. These white women help push the Democrats over in races like Virginia’s last night, but they don’t overwhelmingly go Democrat. This is true in Virginia, and also on a national level. Romney got most of the white people, but he got 6 percentage points fewer of the white women, and that helped secure his loss. 

Meanwhile, over 90 percent of black voters of both genders turned out for McAuliffe. People who make under $50,000 a year and people who make over $100,000 a year turned out for McAuliffe, at 54 percent and 49 percent respectively, whereas the majority of people who fall in between voted for Cuccinelli.

To be clear, the gender gap matters. Without that handful of white women who lean to the left of their male counterparts, McAuliffe wouldn’t have had a chance. But it’s also important to note that the majority of white women clearly don’t care if reproductive rights are stripped away in their state. Perhaps they believe that it won’t affect them, or maybe they’re just not paying attention. The gender gap is an interesting story. But the fact that white women, on average, stay conservative even as conservatives ramp up attacks on women is an even more fascinating one. 

Correction, Nov. 6, 2013: This post originally misstated the exit poll numbers of people who make under $50,000 or over $100,000 a year who voted for Terry McAuliffe.