Basically, you know it’s going to be weird when you see a headline like this: Men Are Treating 2016 As A ‘Normal’ Election; Women Aren’t.
Um. Say what?
I wouldn’t agree that either men or women are “treating 2016 as a normal election.” So right away, there’s an unbridgeable epistemic chasm here.
To take 30 seconds to defend my position, the Republican nominee is Donald Trump, a flamboyant, unconventional first-time candidate for any political office. Millions of men and women voted for Trump, ousting a broad field of talented, interesting candidates who in other political years would have had only each other to worry about – not Trump. On the Democratic side, Hillary may have been a more conventional choice, but she had to fend off a lively primary challenge, not from equally conventional candidates with personality (Martin O’Malley) or gravitas (Jim Webb), but from a wild-haired socialist, Bernie Sanders, whose “ideas” are even more geriatric and politically superannuated than his rumpled self.
In what way can Harry Enten, of Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight, make the argument that men are treating 2016 as a “normal election,” while women aren’t?
He does it by ignoring everything I’ve just said, and tacitly assuming that this is a normal election year, in terms of the kinds of candidates we have and how we got to them. Enten looks solely at the male-female favorability breakout for the candidates (based on polling), and concludes that men favor Trump, the Republican, about the way they always do, whereas women favor Hillary, the Democrat, a lot more than they usually do.
“The gender gap,” says his big graphic, “is huge this year.”
Look, I know some people are just data geeks. But even data geeks can usually see when they’ve said something so silly that they could really use a good, honking premise-check.
It doesn’t take any special data-crunching – beyond the vote counts that got us here – to see that nobody is treating 2016 like a normal election year.
There’s definitely a widening epistemic fissure between a left that can actually speak with a straight face in Enten’s ivory-tower terms, and a rest-of-America that can’t be bamboozled. But what is the rest of America supposed to about it? This ain’t no “normal election year.” What you talkin’ ‘bout, fool?
Two points. One, investigating the “gender” gap while pretending that the candidate situation is normal serves one basic purpose: to imply that women have a particular, gender-related reason to oppose the Republican this year. And oh, gee, what do you know; Enten concludes with that very thought:
We also don’t know whether or not Clinton’s large lead among women is more a pro-Clinton or an anti-Trump vote. My guess is it’s probably a little bit of both. One thing to keep an eye on over the next few weeks, though, is whether the gender gap begins to widen even further, as perhaps more sexual assault allegations against Trump come out. If it does, it could be an argument that the strong Democratic vote among women this year is more anti-Trump than pro-Clinton.
In other words, the data [elegant impressionistic leap here] tell us Trump is a sexual monster who’s tanking with women, so put that in your Q.E.D. pipe and smoke it.
The other point: it may indeed be that the “gender gap” indicates something important. Heck, it probably does. But to understand what it indicates, we first have to acknowledge that there is nothing normal about millions of voters favoring Donald Trump. There’s also nothing normal about having Hillary Clinton as the alternative – not because she’s a woman, but because she is so colossally unsavory, so compromised in so many ways, and such a certain quantity in terms of how badly and corruptly she will govern.
There’s nothing normal, moreover, about the election that will decide who Barack Obama’s successor will be. Obama has “fundamentally transformed” far more of America than the great majority of Americans ever wanted. 2016 can’t be a normal election year, because America is not what she was even eight years ago, much less 30 or 50.
There is a tremendous concern among many voters – my guess would be at least 40% — that 2016 is the year we either save America or lose her forever. If I had to speculate on why there’s a big gender gap this year, I’d say something about women being more biologically programmed to favor the status quo and the symbolic touchstones of normality, and men being more biologically programmed to think it’s necessary to shake things up and change course, in order to achieve a better outcome than what we’re getting right now.
Notice that this thinking doesn’t mean all men or women see things in those specific gender-dictated ways. A whole lot of women do see Hillary and the left as an existential threat to America, and the shake-up of a Trump presidency as a necessity. A whole lot of men see things the opposite way.
My hypothesis is about tendencies, or how gender dispositions differ. It doesn’t say all women would want to hang onto what they see as the status quo. It explains why more would. And vice versa for men. Bias toward the status quo, as a general human trait, would explain why women are even more likely to look for the status quo solution than men are to look for the shake-up solution.
But it’s a hypothesis, so do with it what you will. Unlike Harry Enten’s, it has the virtue of acknowledging that 2016 is already a supremely abnormal election, and everybody can see that. A “gender gap” won’t mean what people thought gender gaps meant back in 2008, or 2000, or 1992.