Wednesday morning after elections: the time to sift through the various exit poll data to take the temperature of the country, or at least the people who bothered to turn out to vote. Lots of interesting information out there today to explain the Crushing of the Democrats Tuesday night. Millennials didn’t bother to vote, single women were a little less pro-Democratic than usual, and the racial divide among voters remains stark. But one number stands out above all others: 64 percent of white men voted for Republicans. It’s the “widest GOP advantage in this group in data since 1984,” according to ABC News.
Revenge of the white guys! There are two ways to interpret this news: that the “war on women” narrative is no longer working for the Democrats, or that the “war on women” isn’t just a Democratic campaign slogan but a brutal fact of our modern political landscape. I lean toward the latter: The Democrats got their asses handed to them by a white male electorate that turned out in an effort to fight their eroding cultural dominance. Republicans got a further assist by the traditional lower midterms turnout among single women, younger people, and people of color—the very demos that have white men so worried.
If you look at how Republicans campaigned, the resentment factor might not seem very relevant. Republicans, wary of the “war on women” cudgel, did what they could to minimize talk about gender issues, often going so far as to imply that they’re really not as anti-choice as they seem. As my colleague Will Saletan argues, Republican politicians were really trying hard to sound moderate this time around. Of course, all that is likely to suppress the liberal vote, because there’s no Todd Akin spouting off about “legitimate rape” to vote against this time around.
But if you turned on conservative media, you heard a much different story than the cautious moderation that actual Republican politicians were trying to sell. Conservative outlets spent the past few months really ramping up the narrative of poor, put-upon white men who are under attack by women. Or, more specifically, single women. A small sampling: Tucker Carlson of Fox News complaining that the country needs “Older White Guy Appreciation Day.” Rush Limbaugh claiming there’s an “all-out assault” on marriage from liberals and suggesting that single women need to be married off so they stop voting for Democrats. Kimberly Guilfoyle of Fox News arguing that single women are too busy being “healthy and hot and running around without a care in the world” to handle civic duties like voting and jury duty properly and therefore should busy themselves with “Tinder or Match.com” instead.
So conservative media inspired already conservative white men to feel like they’re under attack, which in turn inspired them to show up for this election, while Republican candidates lulled swing and low-information voters into thinking they can’t really be that bad. Whether on purpose or by accident: Good strategy, guys!
As for women, they did give a majority of their votes to Democrats again this year, but by a smaller margin than they did in 2012. Part of that is because, as I wrote above, single women don’t turn out in the same numbers as married women for the midterms, and married women typically lean Republican, but, still, single women only gave 60 percent of their vote to Democrats this time, compared with 67 percent for Obama in 2012. Still, we shouldn’t read too much into all of these demographic results when thinking about 2016: Conservative white men may have been highly motivated to vote this time around, and single women might just be highly motivated next time.