What’s the Deal with White People?

The Roy Moore saga might (or might not) finally be coming to an end. Moore lost the Senate race and he might ride his horse into the sunset. The poll results from Alabama, though, give us some puzzles to think about. We might think we understand why so many white evangelicals voted for Moore. But some other groups just don’t make sense.

As we’ve argued in these pages, a central defining feature of white evangelical history over the past century has been what historian George Marsden called the “establishment-or-outsider paradox.” For many white evangelicals, as I explore in my new book about evangelical higher education, America has been both a shining city on a hill and Babylon.

As a result, white evangelical voters have been prone to cheer candidates like our current president who promise to make America great again. President Trump is not the first leader of questionable personal morality to win evangelical votes by pandering to white evangelical yearning to take the USA back to an imagined Christian past, to return the country to Winthrop’s vision.

So I’m not too shocked to read that 80% of white evangelical voters in Alabama voted for Judge Moore. There is one result that befuddles me, though. A slim majority of white college-educated women also went for Moore. By a margin of 52% to 48%, this group voted for a man credibly accused of preying on teenage girls.

What gives?

We can even extend this question to the 2016 presidential election. The number of white evangelical voters who voted for Trump and Moore is very similar: 81% and 80%. While a slim majority of college-educated white women voted for Secretary Clinton over President Trump, Trump still claimed a surprising 45% of the college-educated white woman vote.

Can someone explain this one to me?Moore election results

Why do so many white college-educated women vote for these candidates? I have a feeling my cultural blinders are making it hard for me to understand this apparent truth about the American electorate.

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  1. This is not too hard to understand, especially in the South. Any dominance oriented hierarchy of social power and authority relies on the complicity of some of its victims, typically by promising one group a privileged yet still subordinate status. This has often been noted as an explicit strategy of colonialism and industrial capitalism — give preference to one African tribe over another, white “all American” laborers over black and none or less white immigrant labor, etc. Similar observations have been made about the complicity of white women in slavery, which involved the very obvious rape of black women by their owners, in a context where even white women were essentially owned, denied basic rights, disenfranchised politically, and the concept of “marital rape” was not a reality until 1980.

    Women who have been formatively acclimated to patriarchy adopt identities as woman, Americans, Southerners, Christians, etc. in which patriarchy is an essential feature and therefore makes sense. To break from this mentality is traumatic and liable to have immediate negative social and familial consequences, so most women will “vote against their interests” (in your view) precisely to shore up and hold together the very fabric of their life and world. Holding family together in this way is an extremely traditional plot line. Haven’t you read any Southern classics, like Faulkner? I’ve described this in a very theoretical way, but anyone who has lived through small town church life has seen this drama played out many times as women are pressed — and press each other — to absorb and bear up with enormous abuse, betrayal, denigration, and so forth. In most places it was much worse in the past, but that past is not so distant and much of it remains — some places more than others. This is the Deep South we’re talking about. Affirming the authority of The Man remains the center of the social, moral, and spiritual order.

  2. I just noticed Matthew Dowd says the Alabama exit poll data shows white women overall voted for Moore 63 to 34, but when you break out Evangelical vs non-Evangelical women you get Evangelical white women 76 – 22 Moore; and non-Evangelical white women 74 – 21 Jones. I’m curious how “Non/Evangelical” was defined; in the 90s “Evangelical” was not a label Southerners, especially Baptists tended to use — it had negative (Yankee) associations. That seemed to be changing among young people though.

    Pundits on the right are saying the write-ins and high support for Moore represent pro-lifers who cannot go against their core principles.

  3. It’s informative to get on you tube and listen to people who voted for Trump and Moore say why they did.

    • What people? CNN had a panel of Trump voters that were half Alabamans who didn’t vote for Moore. Only the southern woman, a rape victim and strong Trump supporter, believed Moore’s accusers. Only three believe Trump’s accusers are credible. Some of the men don’t know what sexual assault is, and one identified his own behaviour with Trump’s, so he excuses it and worries about witch hunts. It was a six person survey of America’s rape culture.

      • I was interested in why people voted one way or another. I don’t know if I could locate the ones about Trump, but one was a former beauty pageant contestant who said Trump has helped many women establish careers and supports him because of that. Someone said the media misrepresented her story and made it sound like he acted inappropriately when he didn’t. If you type in women for Trump there is plenty to watch there.
        For Moore and sorry I can’t do links on my iPad, Why These Alabama Voters Are Sticking By Roy Moore (HBO) And. Why Alabama Supports Roy Moore. AJ+ The first is an evangelical focus group, and other one random people.

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