With dust settling on the biggest political upset in U.S. history, the hazy day after is an atom-bomb-drop mess of circular firing squads, blame games and armchair-quarterbacking analysis of what just happened. And while the top-line analysis pretty much points to white America’s collective anti-black streak as the primary culprit, we are now getting a detailed, rich picture of Tuesday night’s results broken down by factors such as age, race, gender, education and income.
While large slices of most key demographic groups crazily skipped to the apocalypse with their support for Donald Trump, one rather intriguing and tragically poetic polling point stands out: Black women tried, desperately, to save the world Tuesday night.
If anyone is to blame for Trump’s dastardly white nationalist-driven win, to the dropping jaws of many, clouds can’t be sent over black women (at least not according to the exit polls). Sisters may have instinctively felt the approaching electoral freight train—perhaps that same way in which worried black mothers, for centuries, have given racial-warning pep talks to black children, bracing for dreams deferred. But as data show, they turned out rather solidly for Hillary Clinton: Ninety-four percent of black female voters broke for the Democratic nominee, compared with only 4 percent for Republican nominee Donald Trump.
Support for Clinton was just 2 percentage points less than the overwhelming 96 percent black female support that President Barack Obama received in both 2008 and 2012. As for black men, some of them weren’t feeling the notion of a first female president: Thirteen percent voted for Trump. That mirrored a somewhat hidden chauvinism among brothers that circulated during a bruising Democratic primary battle between Clinton and favored Larry David stunt double-turned-overnight revolutionary Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Whether black women’s votes were, indeed, an honest attempt at sincerely supporting the candidate or whether they were seated in a real belief that she would be the most qualified president since, well, Barack Obama, is beside the point. What’s poignant is the impressive show of electoral force from black women, despite odds historically stacked against them and—frankly—the almost scandalous underestimation of their value at Election Day polls.
When America reached one of the most dramatic “come to Jesus” moments in its history, faced with a choice between the certainty of operational continuity under Clinton and the uncertainty of a man with no moral fiber beyond building his brand, black women stepped up like Queen Nzinga and did all they could to keep the nation from falling off the cliff.
Unfortunately, they were too late—not for lack of trying (just 2 percent voted “other” or were “unsure”). But black women could not hold up any electoral levy on their own. The approaching flood of determined white voters, along with many more Latinos and Asians than anticipated, simply overwhelmed and offset any gains sisters could sustain for Clinton and other Democrats down ballot.
Even as Democrats—once again—pitched heavily to Latino voters and white women (particularly white college-educated women) at the expense of get-out-the-vote resources directed at reliable African-American voters, those efforts, ironically, came up short. Nearly 30 percent of Latinos, including 26 percent of Latino women, came out for Trump—better than GOP nominee Mitt Romney’s performance with that voting bloc in 2012 (John McCain actually won 31 percent of Latinos in 2008). Despite months of widely ignored polling that consistently showed Trump’s Latino support, on average, ranging from 20-25 percent, Democrats appeared ambushed and confused by election night results.
The same went for Asians, 29 percent of whom voted for Trump, another surprise for Democrats—especially considering that many are from heavily populated Muslim countries in South Asia.
But the big question of the night: What happened to all those white women who were supposed to bust out strong for their fellow sister after 30 years in policymaking? That was the most stunning result, the gut-punching battleground trick that may have left Clinton speechless for a full night: A decisive 53 percent of white women placed their faith in Trump—after weeks of hot-mic moments, allegations and rape charges (all, if not most, involving white women) that seemed to rattle the Republican nominee toward defeat. Even after all that trash talk about Democrats winning over college-educated white voters, that demographic sneaked in votes for Trump.
These were many of the same white women who actively crucified Democratic primary voters in 2008—especially black voters—for not supporting Clinton’s run against then-political upstart Sen. Obama.
And yet black women—when they had no real cultural or social obligation to do so—stayed on course with Clinton even while white women coolly abandoned her. It’s an amazing lesson in political loyalty, now soaked in brutal political absurdity, to which Democrats should pay close attention.
The calculus for black women in this election was abundantly clear, the stakes chillingly higher for sistren as they stood at a unique “misogynoir-istic” intersection of racism and sexism. Crushed between the two most ferocious pillars of national hate, underappreciated for their contributions, while equally ignored for the challenges that oppress them, black women always find a way to make a needed statement—the lemonade from lemons, to subtly borrow from Beyoncé. And they just did it again, to no avail, when the rest of us fell crookedly short.
Charles D. Ellison is a veteran political strategist and a contributing editor at The Root. He is also Washington correspondent for the Philadelphia Tribune, a frequent contributor to The Hill, the weekly Washington insider for WDAS-FM in Philadelphia and host of The Ellison Report, a weekly public-affairs magazine broadcast and podcast on WEAA 88.9 FM Baltimore. Follow him on Twitter.