Democrats “do not do well with white men, and we don’t do well with married, white women,” she said. “And part of that is an identification with the Republican Party and a sort of ongoing pressure to vote the way that your husband, your boss, your son, whoever, believes you should.”
Maybe insulting the demographics you can’t win over will improve your odds in the future.
Shortly after the election, I wrote a much more detailed explanation of why white women may have rejected Clinton. Check it out here.
So we’ve got a lot of people acting as though the election of Donald J. Trump represents a seismic shift in the American electorate and–just maybe!–a prelude to the Fourth Reich. This is just a reminder that the data don’t bear that out.
Donald Trump did not win because of a surge of white support. Indeed he got less white support than Romney got in 2012. Nor did Trump win because he got a surge from other race+gender groups. The exit polls show him doing slightly better with black men, black women, and latino women than Romney did, but basically he just hovered around Romney’s numbers with every race+gender group, doing slightly worse than Romney overall.
However, support for Hillary was way below Obama’s 2012 levels, with defectors turning to a third party. Clinton did worse with every single race+gender combo except white women, where she improved Obama’s outcome by a single point. Clinton did not lose all this support to Donald. She lost it into the abyss. Voters didn’t like her but they weren’t wooed by Trump.
Bruenig goes on to explain why this narrative is so underplayed. Which is: nobody likes it. I’ll let you read Bruenig’s analysis on this point (I basically agree with it), but here’s the point: any discussion of what’s happening in American politics should adhere to the basic facts. Trump did a little worse than Romney. Clinton did a lot worse than Obama. Ergo the defining factor was Clinton’s deep unpopularity.
Last thought: she’s been in the press a lot since the end of the election. It even sounds like she wants to try again. Will she try? Will she succeed (in getting on the ballot)? What will that look like?
In the circles I run in, there was tons of coverage and discussion about the myriad comments Trump has made over the years that many of us consider blatantly sexist. When the Hollywood Access tape came out, I took (and still take) his comments as an admission of sexual predation, a topic that means a great deal to me. I was already a #NeverTrump conservative, but the Hollywood Access tapes made it much more difficult for me to understand how people of good conscience, especially women, could vote for this man.
My feed started to include articles such as The Atlantic’s “The Revolt of the Conservative Woman” and viral tweets from conservative women feeling betrayed by their party’s defense of Trump. Between his apparent gross disrespect of women and the opportunity to elect the first female president, I thought women would vote in droves for Clinton and against Trump. Article’s like FiveThirtyEight’s “Women are Defeating Donald Trump” seemed to think so too.
But clearly I was missing some major parts of the puzzle. (Apparently a lot of us were, including the pollsters.) As Walker pointed out recently, Trump’s support among (all, not just white) women was only slightly lower than the average for Republican presidential candidates since 2000 (42% compared to an average of 44.2%). Clinton’s support among women was exactly average for the Democratic presidential candidates since 2000 (54%). Women weren’t driven to the polls to vote against Trump or for Clinton—overall turnout among women was only 1% higher than in 2012.
So what happened? What pieces of the puzzle was I missing, that women were neither particularly repelled by Trump nor particularly inspired by Clinton?
What leads a woman to vote for a man who has made it very clear that he believes she is subhuman? Self-loathing. Hypocrisy. And, of course, a racist view of the world that privileges white supremacy over every other issue.
Sarah Ruiz-Grossman at Huffington Post authored a letter to white women that started with “Fellow white women, I’m done with you.” In sync with a lot of the commentary I’ve read, it showed no curiosity as to the perspectives, hopes, fears, or values of millions of women that led them to vote for Trump (or at least not vote for Clinton). Instead, and again, it simply told them what they didn’t care about, what their moral failings were, and what they must do now.
While I appreciate the frustration, I think this approach is an awful strategy. Lambasting people, especially conservatives, for bigotry has not been terribly effective at changing their minds (or votes). Berating the other side seems to mostly get them to tune out entirely when the inevitable accusations of prejudice begin. And the rampant shaming of Trump supporters clearly did nothing to dissuade them throughout the primaries (when shaming was coming from conservatives and liberals alike) or the rest of the election. Why would it work now, when they’ve won? They have less reason than ever to be concerned about the opinions of people who show no understanding of their perspectives or interest in their wellbeing.
But it’s not just that I think accusing people of bigotry is poor strategy; I think it’s poor reasoning too. In this post I go through three theories of how voting for Trump was bigoted and explain whether I think those theories make sense.
Theory 1 – Internalized sexists: women voted for Trump instead of Clinton because they are sexist against female candidates.
How Trump measured against Clinton is a major factor. The pantsuit nation adored Clinton, of course, so for them this was no contest at all. But we aren’t looking into what HRC’s biggest fans thought; we’re exploring the millions of women who disagreed.
It’s not that everyone who voted for Trump thought he was wonderful: exit polls show that 20% of people who voted for Trump had an overall unfavorable opinion of him. Nearly a quarter of Trump voters said he wasn’t qualified for or did not have the temperament to be president, and a full 17% of people who voted for Trump to be President said they would be “concerned” if he were elected!
But 28% of Trump voters said they chose him mainly because they disliked Clinton. Trump received about 60M votes, which would mean about 17M cast their votes primarily as a vote against Clinton. Along the same lines, while voter turnout for Trump was slightly lower than it had been for Romney, voter turnout for Clinton was much lower than it had been for Obama.
Some will argue that these numbers show sexism: people so rejected the idea of a female leader they either stayed home or voted for someone they despised just to stop Clinton. Actually women get accused of sexism no matter which way they vote: Women who backed Clinton are accused of bias, just “voting with their vaginas,” and the rest of us are accused of not voting for her because we’re misogynists. It’s a lose-lose.
But these theories ignore the fact that women don’t generally vote based on gender, and gender stereotypes end up being less relevant than party affiliation in voting decisions. In other words, we vote based on political positions. The reality is that most of the women voting for or against Clinton did so based on a variety of competing concerns and priorities, just as most men choose their candidates.
CNN reported that millennial women in particular “rejected the notion that gender should be a factor in their vote.” As FiveThirtyEight put it:
Clinton’s stunning loss Tuesday night showed that issues of culture and class mattered more to many American women than their gender. The sisterhood, as real sisterhood tends to be, turned out to be riddled with complications.
On average, for the last 5 presidential elections, 89% of Democrats chose the Democratic nominee and 91.4% of Republicans chose the Republican. Last week 89% of Democrats chose Clinton and 90% of Republicans chose Trump. If internalized sexism were a major factor in terms of female nominees, we’d expect 2016 to show a drop in Democrats voting for the Democrat (as internally sexist Democratic women abandoned Clinton) and perhaps even a jump in Republicans voting for the Republican (as internally sexist Republican women were motivated to stop Clinton). But there was no such change.
Similarly, if internalized sexism was a major factor we’d expect Clinton to get a lower proportion of women’s votes compared to previous Democratic nominees. Yet, as mentioned above, she got exactly the average proportion of women Democratic nominees have had in the last five presidential races. Or, if we’re operating under the idea that only conservatives can be bigots, we’d at least expect a higher proportion of women to vote for Trump in order to stop Clinton. Yet Trump got just slightly less than the average proportion of women Republican nominees have had for the last five races.
If anything, these stats suggest women weren’t influenced by gender at all.
Theory 2 – Indifference to sexism: women cared more about party lines than taking a stand against Trump’s misogyny.
There are several assumptions embedded in this line of thinking: (A) The women who voted for Trump accessed the same information we did about him. (B) When they assessed that information, they came to the same conclusions we did about the degree of Trump’s misogyny. (C) There was nothing else in the balance for them in this election that could have meant more to them than Trump’s misogyny.
2a. Trump voters were likely accessing different information.
Hopefully it’s not a secret that conservatives and liberals consume different media. I wish I had time to do an entire blog post on how drastically this impacts our views of each other and of our political landscape. But the main point is we should be very careful when assuming that everyone else—especially people that run in different social circles and already hold different perspectives—“knows” the same “truths” we know. Which stories get reported and how they’re described varies a lot, and sadly, at least in my experience, most people don’t look for sources from worldviews they don’t hold. Or, if they do, it’s not in an attempt to observe and understand, but to feel outraged and argue.
So when John Oliver does a witty, biting piece on “making Donald Drumpf again” and you see it reposted over and over, that doesn’t mean everyone saw it. The people who already hated Trump were a lot more likely to see it than anyone else. Late night comedy is, after all, a bastion of liberal derision.
2b. Trump voters were likely interpreting information in different ways.
That’s not to suggest Trump supporters were wholly unaware of criticisms against him. I think it’s unlikely, for example, that many Trump supporters didn’t at least hear about the Hollywood Access recording. But the context in which conservatives in general, and enthusiastic Trump supporters specifically, interpreted that was often quite different than how leftists saw it.
Many people (including me) were disgusted and horrified by Trump laughingly talking about getting away with kissing and groping women without their consent. But many others mostly heard politically-motivated faux outrage. The same people so focused on Trump’s comments and the sexual assault allegations against him remained dismissive or defensive about the long history of sexual misconduct and assault allegations against Bill Clinton—and Hillary Clinton’s role in silencing Bill’s accusers. Clinton fans retorted that Hillary isn’t responsible for Bill’s behavior, but that misses the point. She’s responsible for her behavior: she referred to these women as “floozy,” “bimbo,” and “stalker,” and put great effort into “destroying” their stories.
Good luck telling conservatives they must take a principled stand against sexual assault while refusing to acknowledge that the Clintons basically embodied rape culture.
Of course the Hollywood Access tapes are only one example of Trump’s sexism, but the pattern remains the same. Whatever example you point to, if outraged accusations of bigotry are coming from leftists or the media, conservatives are extremely skeptical. In fact, getting back to point 2a, conservative circles are more likely to have articles about people who made upstories ofhate crimes – stories which, before being shown to be false, often caused viral online outrage (as well as extensive donations to the alleged victim).
I find this problem very frustrating. I do believe the left is too quick to claim bigotry, but I believe the right is therefore too quick to dismiss actualbigotry. Robby Soave of Reason.com summarized this view well:
[It’s] the boy-who-cried-wolf situation. I was happy to see a few liberals, like Bill Maher, owning up to it. Maher admitted during a recent show that he was wrong to treat George Bush, Mitt Romney, and John McCain like they were apocalyptic threats to the nation: it robbed him of the ability to treat Trump more seriously. The left said McCain was a racist supported by racists, it said Romney was a racist supported by racists, but when an actually racist Republican came along—and racists cheered him—it had lost its ability to credibly make that accusation.
After all, these same voters have watched as every Republican candidate in recent memory has been accused of waging a “War on Women.” If Democrats are going to claim that Mitt Romney and John McCain hate women (and they did), then they shouldn’t be surprised when voters ignore them when they say Donald Trump hates women. If every Republican is a misogynist, then no Republican is.
I don’t believe the right’s resistance to recognizing bigotry is all the left’s fault. I think that’s a factor, but ultimately we’re all responsible for assessing each situation and trying to be fair-minded about it.
Even so, I think many conservatives viewed the outrage over Trump as nothing more than yet another chapter in a long history of selective and manufactured leftist outrage, and so they discounted it. So even if they had watched John Oliver, they probably would have just rolled their eyes at another leftist show mocking conservatives again.
2c. Trump voters were weighing a lot of additional concerns apart from bigotry.
But there were a lot of conservatives who heard about the problems with Trump and were seriously concerned. Many of them became the #NeverTrump crowd, but others still voted for Trump. Why? Because they weren’t balancing the problems of racism and sexism against nothing. They were taking those issues and factoring them in with a lot of other issues, weighing each one, and coming to a decision. Even women who voted against Trump had other concerns they considered more important than sexism.
Many reject as ridiculous this concept of weighing multiple factors, saying it’s a weak excuse to try to cover up bigotry. They assert nothing could outweigh the civil rights threats Trump represents, and therefore the people who came down on Trump’s side, by definition, just didn’t care enough about civil rights.
Interestingly, I saw the same reductive thinking from conservatives trying to berate #NeverTrump people into voting for him. If you didn’t vote for Trump—if you voted for Clinton, or even if you voted third party—you must not care about massive government abuse and corruption, our country’s impending economic collapse under an overregulated welfare state, and, possibly above all, the killing of tens of thousands of babies.
Does that last part sound hyperbolic to you? Because, for a huge portion of the pro-life movement, that was the assertion. Many pro-lifers view abortion as morally equivalent to any other unlawful human death. If you want to imagine the abortion debate from a pro-life perspective, just replace the concept of “fetus” with “toddler,” and listen to how the arguments sound. So when Hillary Clinton campaigned on a platform of no restrictions through all three trimesters and requiring Medicaid to cover abortions, that was an absolute deal breaker for many people. Abortion happens in this country roughly 1 million times a year. Imagine for a moment you were choosing between (1) a candidate who stirs racial animosity and blatantly disrespects women and (2) a candidate who unapologetically embraces policies making it legal to murder a million toddlers a year. Who would you pick?
If your first response is to explain why that second description is false, you’re missing the point. Yes, I understand that for many, abortion is nothing at all like killing a toddler and even the comparison is offensive. I’m not trying to convince anyone here how to feel about abortion. I’m trying to convince people that you can’t sincerely talk about what motivates others if you refuse to acknowledge their actual perspectives. People who voted for Trump could (a) recognize Trump’s racism and sexism, (b) care greatly about those issues, and (c) still believe the threats Clinton represented were more dire. The only way you can genuinely believe that every single vote for Trump represented at minimum a callous disregard for civil rights is if you ignore or dismiss the circumstances and value systems of millions of people.
Passion about abortion likely affected many of women who voted for Trump. LV Anderson was aghast that more than half of white women would vote for a man who said he’d appoint Supreme Court justices to overturn Roe v. Wade. It is amazing to me that so many people are still taken off guard when women are antiabortion. Half of American women are against abortion, and that has been true since long before Trump entered the primaries. Yet each time thousands or millions of women don’t go for the pro-choice position, pro-choice people are just so surprised. This is another example of the same pattern: be totally unaware of what people have repeatedly said they care about, and then be surprised and angry when they vote for the things they said they cared about all along.
I’ve used abortion as an example of competing values, but it’s only one of many. A recent New York Times article profiled women who voted for Trump. While 22-year-old Nicole Been mentioned her deep opposition to abortion as part of her stance, other women discussed Trump’s approach to veterans, their own dire financial situations, and their disillusionment with Democratic efforts to improve their lives. Another New York Times article profiled college-educated women who voted for Trump; they, too, opposed abortion, but focused more on economic security and job and college prospects for their children.
Note that racial anxiety is one of the recurring themes. The left seems to want to reduce this narrative to bigotry and nothing more, and I’ve spent a lot of time here explaining why I think that’s inaccurate. But the right seems to want to reflexively deny bigotry had any part to play, and I don’t think that’s true either. At minimum there was certainly a racial component to Trump’s candidacy. Looming large in the support of Trump were concerns about minority groups getting unfair preferential treatment and resources, immigrants taking resources and increasing criminal activity, and terrorists threatening our safety.
Theory 3 – Institutionalized sexism and racism – regardless of personal motivation, women who voted for Trump supported a platform that would disproportionately harm minority groups.
A major hurdle with discussions of racism and sexism is the use of the same words to mean very different things. In my right-leaning circles, “racism” generally means an individual’s disdain or animosity towards others based on race. Same thing with “sexism,” but based on sex. In my left-leaning circles, “racism” and “sexism” often mean individual disdain or animosity, but can also mean cultural norms and systemic and institutionalized systems that disproportionately negatively impact minority groups.
So when someone claims that a vote for Trump was racist, they could either mean (a) the person casting the vote has disdain or animosity toward people of other races or (b) the person casting the vote, regardless of his or her motivations, helped to uphold systems that have major negative impacts on women and nonwhite people.
The interesting thing about the “effects not intentions” version of racism is that it can be empirically verified. Motivations can be pretty complicated, multifaceted, and irrational. Effects can be objectively measured. So if “racism” (or sexism or Islamophobia or homophobia) is defined as “policies and practices that hurt these groups,” and if electing Trump ends up hurting these groups, then it follows that electing Trump was racism, by this definition.
3a. It’s reasonable to believe electing Trump will end up hurting these groups.
Trump campaigned on ending sanctuary cities, suspending visas, and deportation. If implemented, those policies would disproportionately affect undocumented immigrants (about half of which are Hispanic or Latino, followed by Asian) as well as American citizens from families with mixed citizenship statuses. Whether you agree with these policies or not, and whether you personally care how these policies affect others or not, it’s hard to deny that they will negatively impact immigrants and their family members who are American citizens.
Trump has talked about requiring immigrants from predominantly Muslim countries to register upon entering the U.S. Alternatively he called for a ban on Muslims immigrating to the country; while he clarified this would not apply to American citizens, it’s hard to believe such policies and related rhetoric about Muslims won’t affect public perception of and reaction to Muslims already living here. The FBI has released data showing a 67% increase in hate crimes against Muslims in 2015. Some are worried this trend is related to Trump’s rise and campaign rhetoric; others say there are other factors–such as 2015 terrorist attacks–that likely played a part. But I think either of those reasons underscores the central point: when the public increasingly perceives a group as dangerous, violence against innocent people in that group becomes more likely.
It seems like Trump’s potential effects on African American communities have been less of a focus, but there are reasons for concern. (This link includes some reasons I think conservatives will dismiss as more faux outrage, but, for what it’s worth, I believe some of these points are pretty valid.)
While Trump didn’t propose specific policies against LGBT folk, the 2016 Republican Party platform did object to legalized gay marriage and take other positions seen as anti-gay. Because Trump was the Republican nominee and can now nominate SCOTUS judges, many believe he will work to adopt those Republican positions. I think it’s unlikely gay marriage will get overturned, but I don’t think it’s a certainty, and I see why many people are worried their marital status could be threatened.
Trump has a history that suggests a pretty disrespectful view of women, not to mention (again) his statements in the Access Hollywood recordings. To the extent women believe support for Trump signals societal dismissal of sexual assault, that belief could have another chilling effect on women reporting assaults and seeking help. I watched this play out on both the national level and with women I know personally after the Access Hollywood firestorm. Women (and men, for that matter) who have experienced sexual assault listened as friends and family who were Trump supporters minimized, dismissed, and, in my opinion, very generously interpreted Trump’s statements. That was difficult. Victims of sexual assault hear those reactions and believe the reactions would be the same if they came forward with their own stories. I can understand why people fear this kind of dismissal of sexual misconduct will only get worse now that Trump will be president.
A vote for Trump lent support to these policy proposals and attitudes, even if the person voting didn’t personally support one or any of the above. In this sense I think Theory 3 is truer than the other theories—I think a Trump administration will very likely make life harder for these groups.
3b. First problem: negative effects count as racism regardless of what they’re being weighed against.
Consider Trump’s campaign regarding Islamic terrorism. I do believe requiring (mostly) Muslim immigrants to register upon entering the country, or refusing to let them enter at all, will negatively affect the public’s views and behavior toward Muslim Americans and Muslim immigrants already here.
But I also recognize that the people who support these measures believe they will significantly increase our national security and safety. Based on my understanding of Theory 3, what Trump voters believe about these measures (and how those beliefs speak to their motivations) is irrelevant, because Theory 3 is all about effects on minority groups, not the intentions of the people pushing these policies. Whether they sincerely believe these measures will save American lives doesn’t change whether or not this approach is defined as racist.
And we’ve only talked about what they believe, not what is objectively true. Apparently NSEERS, the similar Bush-era program that required immigrant registration, was ineffective at preventing terrorism; it sounds like it was just more security theater, but in this case directed at specific groups. But suppose, hypothetically, immigrant registration made a huge difference in national security. Suppose—as I suspect is the belief of some who support this idea—that without immigrant registration we’d have more San Bernadino and Pulse nightclub shootings. Or another World Trade Center.
If these policies actually prevented terrorism deaths in our own country, does that change whether they are racist? If I understand Theory 3 correctly, it does not. In this way Theory 3 rings a bit hollow for me, because while it is at least technically accurate and objectively measurable (does X policy negatively impact Y community or not?), if it ignores all other factors I still consider it misleading.
3c. Second problem: conflating Theory 3 with Theories 1 & 2.
In my experience, the left frequently blurs the line between “negative impacts” and “personal animosity.” A great example is the Slate article “There’s No Such Thing as a Good Trump Supporter.” Chief political correspondent Jamelle Bouie argues that Trump supporters do not merit empathy because they “voted for a racist who promised racist outcomes.” He cites other authors who have claimed Trump’s victory does not reveal an “inherent malice” in the populace (referring to the “personal animosity” definition of racism). Bouie counters with the “negative impacts” definition:
Whether Trump’s election reveals an “inherent malice” in his voters is irrelevant. What is relevant are the practical outcomes of a Trump presidency…If you voted for Trump, you voted for this, regardless of what you believe about the groups in question.
But, as the title of the piece suggests, Bouie is not condemning only the effects of voting for Trump; he’s condemning the Trump voters themselves. He asserts that it is myopic and even “morally grotesque” to suggest Trump supporters are good people. He compares Trump voters to the men in the early 20th century who organized lynchings (they “weren’t ghouls or monsters. They were ordinary.”) and the people who gawked and smiled at those lynchings (“the very model of decent, law-abiding Americana.”) He sums up: “Hate and racism have always been the province of ‘good people.’”
Note the switch here. Bouie is no longer talking about practical outcomes; he’s talking about hate. He has switched from the “negative impacts” definition of racism back to the “personal animosity” definition. So is he saying that most Trump supporters did not have inherent malice but should be condemned for the policies they supported? Or is he saying that anyone who can support Trump has to be, at least in part, motivated by hate?
And this is often how I see the conversation going. To (heavily) paraphrase:
Person A: If you voted for Trump, you’re racist.
Person B: I’m really not. I disagreed with a lot of what he said but I thought Clinton would do more damage in XYZ ways.
Person A: Yeah, you may not personally feel racist but you supported racist policies. It just shows you think the concerns of white people are more important than the actual human rights of everyone else.
Person B: That’s not what I think at all!
Person A: It’s not about what you personally think! It’s about what you supported!
In other words, in principle motivation is supposed to be irrelevant because racism is about effects, but in practice accusations of racism nearly always boil down to motivation—at best a selfish indifference and at worst outright malice. So, in principle, I think Theory 3 has some merit and is worth talking about. In practice, I find I just end up repeating the arguments I made for Theories 1 & 2.
According to Snopes, as of yesterday (November 13) Clinton is currently ahead of Trump by about 630,000 votes, and it looks likely that number will increase as the ballots continue to be counted. This situation has lead to familiar calls to end the electoral college, and already I’ve seen plenty of angry posts from HRC supporters feeling they’ve been robbed. So a few points here:
1. At least as of now, statistically Trump and Clinton are actually tied.
So far, about 121M people voted for either Trump or Clinton. Previous research has suggested the error rate for uncounted votes in a presidential election is roughly between 1.1% – 2.0% (here’s the study and its tables). If those numbers hold, one of the candidates would need to beat the other by somewhere between 1.3M – 2.4M votes for it to be statistically significant. At least as of now, Clinton falls short of that, meaning the difference between them is in the margin of error. They’re tied.
2. Even if Clinton ends up above the margin of error, it doesn’t mean the electoral college has robbed anyone.
Politicians campaign and people vote with the electoral college in mind. Think of how many times you heard people discuss how everyone in swing states ought to vote, whereas if you were in a solid red or blue state, people didn’t care as much. Why? Because they knew how the electoral college works. Party hardliners were relatively forgiving of third party votes in the states already decided. I live in California, and no one seemed very worried about third party votes here. We all assumed (correctly) that Clinton would get all of California’s electoral votes either way. But if you went third party in Florida this year? Apparently the end of the world might be a bit your fault.
If the electoral college hadn’t existed, you don’t know how people would’ve voted differently. How many more conservatives would have bothered to vote in California? How many more liberals would have showed up in Alabama?
The same goes for the way the politicians campaign. They choose which states to pour their ads into, to get people on the ground, to hit hard, based on their knowledge of the electoral college–and those processes greatly influence people’s votes.
If the electoral college didn’t exist, campaigning and voting would have looked different, and we don’t know how different. We don’t know how the landscape would have changed, and so we don’t know which candidate would have received the “mandate” from the American people.
So it’s possible HRC will end up above the margin of error. And it’s possible if she does that would happen to represent what Americans would have wanted if they had voting absent an electoral college. It’s also possible it would have looked completely different. Especially when considering how unprecedented this election was and how surprised so many of us were by the results, it’s pretty hard to predict. It’s certainly not clear that the electoral college foiled the (overall) will of the people.
Trump has been catching a lotofheat for his rather bungled remarks about abortion. Clinton in turn defended late-term abortions by claiming that these cases are often due to the mother’s health being jeopardized or complications with the pregnancy. There was even a heartbreaking story by a Mormon woman going viral that relayed the horrific experience of late-term abortion due to pregnancy complications. It turns out that the majority of Americans would likely approve of abortion in her situation. Gallup has found that 50% of Americans think abortion should be legal only under some circumstances, while 29% think it should be legal in all cases and a mere 19% think it should be illegal in all cases. When specifics are given, they found that 82% believe it should be legal when the mother’s physical health is endangered and 75% believe it should be in cases of rape or incest. Even the official stance of the LDS Church would fall under the “legal only under some circumstances” category (though members should realize just how seriously Church leadership takes this subject).
Nonetheless, the American population of women has basically been split in half on this matter for over a decade. The latest Gallup poll found the percentage of pro-choice women to be 54 percent, though it’s averaged at about 48.5% between 2001-2015. This squares with Pew’s finding that 50% of women view abortion as morally wrong. However, a 2016 Marist poll found that 82% of women would restrict abortion to the first three months of pregnancy (this is much closer to a large number of European countries).
Why would so many women object to late-term abortions if these are so often due to complications as Clinton said? There are probably many reasons, but one of them could have to do with the fact that Clinton’s reasoning is misleading. Granted, the majority of abortions take place early on in the pregnancy. As The Washington Post reported,
One-third take place at six weeks or pregnancy or earlier; 89 percent occur in the first 12 weeks, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which supports abortion rights. Only 1.2 percent of abortions—about 12,000 a year– take place after 21 weeks. (The Supreme Court has held that states may not prohibit abortions “necessary to preserve the life or health” of the mother.)
On top of that, Guttmacher says that 43 states already prohibit some abortions after a certain point in pregnancy, such as fetal viability, in the third trimester or after a certain number of weeks. So this is already a rare procedure that is prohibited in much of the country.
So are late-term abortions mainly due to later complications? A 2013 study by the Guttmacher Institute may suggest otherwise. Writing at the pro-life Charlotte Lozier Institute, Elizabeth Johnson expounds on Guttmacher’s data:
For many years, abortion-rights advocates have asserted that abortions after 20 weeks are performed because of maternal health complications or lethal fetal anomalies discovered late in pregnancy. However, wider data from both the medical literature and late-term abortion providers indicates that most late-term procedures are not performed for these reasons. Previous survey studies of late-term abortion patients have confirmed that most late-term abortions are performed because of a delay in pregnancy diagnosis and for reasons similar to those given by first-trimester abortion patients: financial stressors, relationship problems, education concerns or parenting challenges.
A recent paper entitled, “Who seeks abortion at or after 20 weeks?” supports these conclusions. The study, published in Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, a journal of the Guttmacher Institute, marks a notable departure from previous statements by abortion rights advocates that late-term abortions were rarely elective. Authors Foster and Kimport highlight the characteristics of women seeking abortion at or after 20 weeks gestation. The authors acknowledge that, in fact, wider “data suggests that most women seeking later terminations are not doing so for reasons of fetal anomaly or life endangerment.” The study explores reasons for delay in seeking abortion services, comparing first-trimester and late-term abortion groups. While there are numerous limitations to the study, the authors suggest that the characteristics of women who seek both first-trimester and late-term abortions are substantially similar.
The characteristic similarities and delay commonalities observed across first trimester and late-term abortion groups suggest that women who seek abortion share similar characteristics across gestational ages. The stressful circumstances of unprepared pregnancy, single-motherhood, financial pressure and relationship discord are primary concerns that must be addressed for these women. However, these circumstances are not fundamentally alleviated or ameliorated by late-term abortion. Indeed, late-term abortion places these women at greater risk of surgical complications, subsequent preterm birth, and mental health problems, while simultaneously ending the life of an unborn child. As a medical profession and society, we rightly seek alternative, compassionate responses for the women seeking late-term abortion procedures for such challenging yet elective reasons.
It is reasons like this that some fact checkers have called Clinton out on her previous late-term abortion comments. It is interesting that in Reason‘s useful rundown of late-term abortions in America there are no figures provided to support the claim that these abortions “are generally a last resort” and “involve situations where the mother’s life or health is in jeopardy.” The blog Secular Pro-Life Perspectives drew on a couple studies to further demonstrate the rarity of health problems as a reason for abortion:
This 1988 study surveyed 399 women seeking abortion at 16+ weeks. The study found women were obtaining late-term abortions instead of earlier-term abortions (i.e. reasons for delaying) because:
71% Woman didn’t recognize she was pregnant or misjudged gestatio
48% Woman found it hard to make arrangements for abortion
33% Woman was afraid to tell her partner or parents
24% Woman took time to decide to have an abortion
8% Woman waited for her relationship to change
8% Someone pressured woman not to have abortion
6% Something changed after woman became pregnant
6% Woman didn’t know timing is important
5% Woman didn’t know she could get an abortion
2% A fetal problem was diagnosed late in pregnancy
According a 2004 study by Guttmacher, 1,160 women seeking abortion (not just late-term) gave overall reasons for obtaining an abortion at all stages (may list more than one):
74% Having a baby would dramatically change my life
73% Can’t afford a baby now
48% Don’t want to be a single mother or having relationship problems
38% Have completed my childbearing
32% Not ready for a(nother) child
25% Don’t want people to know I had sex or got pregnant
22% Don’t feel mature enough to raise a(nother) child
14% Husband or partner wants woman to have abortion
13% Possible problems affecting the health of the fetus
12% Physical problem with my health
6% Parents want me to have an abortion
1% Woman was victim of rape
<0.5% Became pregnant as a result of incest
The same Guttmacher study has statistics for later term abortion (13+ weeks gestation). According to Guttmacher, 21% of women who had abortion at or past 13 weeks were doing so for fetal health concerns, and 10% for personal health concerns.
Abortion is a complex issue, especially when it comes to the legal aspects. But accuracy is important. While better data may indeed show that health complications are the culprits behind late-term abortions, the current evidence suggests that they are not.
UPDATE: Thanks to Margot in the comments for pointing out this 2014 study. She summarizes: “A more recent study (published in 2014) on all women referred to the Yale hospital for late-term abortions from 2002 to 2011 found that 69% were for a poor prenatal diagnosis–fetal anomaly (41.6%), aneuploidy (15.7%) or multiple anomalies (12.7%)–and another 9.6% were for pregnancy complications or maternal disease. Just over 20% were for unwanted pregnancies, perhaps where the mother either didn’t know she was pregnant earlier or had problems accessing abortion.” This is the kind of evidence mentioned above that could help identify health complications as the main culprit. Good data are hard to come by, so this was an excellent find. For the pro-life crowd, the near 21% of late-term abortions performed because the pregnancy was “unwanted” will still be alarming. But if this study is generalized, it could provide more weight for Clinton’s remarks. However, it is worth pointing out that these numbers are taken from Yale New Haven Hospital between 2002 and 2011. Multiple demographic factors (income, education, marital status, etc.) are at play when it comes to the numbers of a single hospital, which should make us cautious about drawing broad conclusions from them. Other numbers tell a different story. For example, since 2012, 91% of 14-20 week and 80% of 21+ week abortions in Arizona have been elective (i.e., not due to maternal or fetal medical conditions). In Florida, 87% of 13-24 week abortions have been elective since 2013 (it’s even higher when you consider the fact that things like “emotional/psychological health of the mother” and “social or economic reasons” are filed under “non-elective”). Diana Greene Foster–one of the authors of the 2013 Guttmacher study above–told FactCheck.org “that “[t]here aren’t good data on how often later abortions are for medical reasons.” She said based on limited research and discussions with researchers in the field that abortions for fetal anomaly “make up a small minority of later abortions,” and that those for life endangerment are even harder to characterize. This is because many of the women who fall into that category would be treated under emergent circumstances at hospitals rather than at a dedicated abortion clinic, making numbers harder to obtain, Foster said.” In other words, better data and research are needed.
Hillary Clinton spoke at two separate Goldman Sachs events on the evenings of Thursday, October 24 and Tuesday, October 29. As both Politico and the New York Times report, Clinton’s fee is about $200,000 per speech, meaning she likely netted around $400,000 for her paid gigs at Goldman over the course of six days.
Does this feel deeply wrong to anyone else? Overpaid CEO’s are bad enough, but at least you can make a plausible argument that their compensation is in some way related to their contribution. Something like: the competitive advantage of having the best CEO justifies the price, even if his marginal work input doesn’t. Same basic idea for highly-paid professional athletes: a $10,000,000 player is not 10x better than a $1,000,000 player, but teams will pay a premium to get the very best.
But a speech? I’m sure it’s not technically anything as vulgar as a bribe, which would apply some kind of specific quid pro quo. You could see it as just some kind of bizarre conspicuous consumption, I suppose. “Look how awesome we are, we got Hillary Clinton.” But even that has sinister undertones, to me. Does anyone really think Hillary has anything that remarkable to say divorced from the power she wields? This is the kind of money you have to spend to get a private concert from a rock star, but at least then you know that there’s music involved. This? To me it just looks like the mechanism of America’s new aristocracy. Go to an elite school, enter “civil service” or get elected to a prominent office, and suddenly the world is your oyster. Whether it’s rampant insider trading at congressional offices (yes, that’s a thing) or just having money thrown at you for making speeches the message is clear: if you have influence in the government then you are no longer an ordinary human being. You’re not really a celebrity, either. You’re an aristocrat.
These people–liberal or conservative and Republican or Democratic–just don’t seem to be the same “we the people” as the rest of us.