If everyone in America were queer, Hillary Clinton would have won the 2016 election by a landslide. According to CNN exit polls, 77 percent of people who answered “yes” to the question “Are you gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender?” also said they voted for Clinton. Clinton did better with queer voters than she did with Latinos by more than 10 percent, even though Trump himself believed his statements had so poisoned Latinos against him that an American-born judge of Mexican descent could not be trusted to be impartial in a fraud case against Trump University.
The second most popular candidate among LGBTQ Americans was Donald Trump, but queer voters also seem to have been more likely to vote for a minor-party candidate than most Americans. I say “seem,” because none of the exit polls I found differentiated between votes for minor parties and “decline to answer.” About 9 percent of the queers surveyed in exit polls either voted for someone other than Clinton or Trump or else declined to answer. This is a lot higher than the roughly 4 percent of the vote won by Jill Stein, Gary Johnson, and Evan McMullin.
What were these Hillary holdouts thinking? Although I voted for Jill Stein, I spent the election surrounded by Clinton supporters certain that their candidate would win. I had no idea whether my thoughts about the election were similar to other queer voters who had come to a similar decision. So I decided to ask eight queer voters who did not choose Hillary Clinton why they voted as they did and whether they have any regrets given how things worked out. I found them via social media, most often through friends and friends of friends. This was definitely not a representative sample—six of the people I found voted for Jill Stein, one had been a consistent Trump supporter, and one had intended to vote for Gary Johnson but broke for Trump at the last minute, right there in the voting booth.
Everyone I spoke with expressed surprise at the end result—they’d all assumed that Clinton was going to win. Likewise, every one of them expressed concerns about the larger political system or about the forces they see at play in the political landscape. The consistent Trump supporter complained of negativity and emotionalism clouding people’s judgment, causing them to take the election too personally. She added, “Despite his foul language and poor choice of words [Trump] always spoke about America’s issues and how he was going to help the American people. Hillary was more about helping everyone else in the world while ultimately helping herself.” The wavering Johnson supporter who ultimately voted for Trump complained that “Politicians have been ruining this country—I was NOT going to vote for just another politician.” All the Stein supporters took issue with the way the two major parties forced voters into a situation where bad choices were the only options, and four of the six criticized Clinton as strongly as Donald Trump or otherwise drew equivalences between the evils they believe both major candidates would bring about.
The voters I spoke with, none of whom came from a swing state, were keenly aware whether their state was red or blue and how little their vote could do to impact the larger election.
“I had a sneaking suspicion that [Massachusetts] was going to go for Clinton, so it was easy for me to vote my conscience,” said Xavier William, a black transgender man of Haitian decent.
“No matter what you do or how you feel, as a liberal in Tennessee your vote is basically a protest vote. [Tennessee] just gets redder the higher up you go on the ticket. I’m so sick of the two-party system,” Jaxx Porter, a genderqueer voter in their mid-20s told me.
All but one of these voters spoke about the ways in which Clinton fell short on LGBTQ issues. For example, the Trump supporter asked, “Why did Hillary Clinton’s views on gay marriage drastically change only when society became more accepting of it?” Many of the others also mentioned feeling that Clinton was late and tepid in her support for gay issues. A Stein voter who goes by the name Meff complained that “Dems use queer people as political tools, to appear liberal when it’s convenient.” Meff also pointed out that the Green Party has strongly supported gay rights since the early 1990s.
The minor party voters I spoke with were universally contemptuous of Donald Trump, who they described as “a disaster,” “a fascist trash fire,” “personally offensive,” “lying all the time,” “stirring up hate,” and “not qualified—he’s a mess.” (Laurie, a self-described tomboy in her 50s who decided for Trump at the last minute, liked that Trump was a gambler and a good businessman, while the other Trump voter praised his sincerity compared with Hillary Clinton.)
William, who was the only non-white voter I spoke with, had a lot to say about Clinton’s record in Haiti. “I don’t know any Haitians who voted for Clinton,” he said. “I’m Haitian, and the Clintons took advantage of Haitians after a natural disaster. A lot of the things [Trump] says are personally offensive, while a lot of what Hillary does is offensive to life.”
Several expressed economic anxieties, as well as frustration with the Obama administration for not doing enough to change things. “We live paycheck to paycheck, thanks to state and federal taxes. Companies don’t have pensions no more—I’m 54, and I’ll be lucky if I can retire at 67,” explained Laurie. Meanwhile, Meff believed that liberals lost working-class voters because of condescension. “Classism is so deeply prevalent in American liberalism. It’s a savior complex, to vote for the person that they believe will save and protect the rights of minorities or poor people. It’s so condescending—Hillary Clinton was never a champion for the little guy.”
Is there anything we can learn from the views of a handful of dissenters from states where the vote was a foregone conclusion? Our tendency to break voters into categories and take the views of the majority in each category as a stand-in for the group as a whole seems dangerous to me. If voting is meaningful, then it’s meaningful because each individual person who casts a vote matters as much as any other. Our custom of slicing voters up into groups and talking of candidates or parties winning those groups diminishes individuals’ agency in the process, very likely contributing to feelings of alienation and lack of investment in political life. In the recent election, frustration and anger at the status quo reached such an intense level that a completely unexpected (and possibly disastrous) result was achieved. It’s important to remember that frustration and anger with the status quo in American politics is not the exclusive province of angry white factory workers in the Midwest. It’s everywhere.
Correction, Nov. 30, 2016: This post originally misspelled Xavier William’s last name.