Don’t look for a silver bullet in Hillary Clinton’s surprising loss to Donald Trump in the U.S. Presidential election. One does not exist, stressed Political Science professor Cristine de Clercy. However, any analysis of her loss that does not include gender would be incomplete.
“People have been looking for the silver bullet answer post-election,” de Clercy said. “It’s a combination of factors, combination of voters’ considerations, combination of errors in the polls, expectations that clearly weren’t rooted in reality, the institutional nature of the United States, a suspicion of Washington – which, in American politics, is a huge factor.”
On Nov. 8, Trump defeated Clinton in one of the most surprising elections in history.
With the last remaining ballots being counted, Clinton was the leading vote-getter across the country, nabbing 63.6 million votes, compared to Trump’s 61.9 million votes, for a lead of just over 1.7 million votes, according to the Cook Political Report. That means she received more votes than any other U.S. presidential candidate in history, except Barack Obama.
However, the Electoral College – a system in which each state possesses a number of college votes that, for the most part, go to the candidate who wins that state – decides the winner. Trump earned 290 Electoral College votes compared to Clinton’s 232; 270 votes are required for the presidency.
As the first-ever woman atop a major party presidential ticket, Clinton might be shouldering a lot of the blame for her loss, de Clercy said. But it’s important to look at the results through a wider lens.
“When you think a race horse is going to win and it doesn’t, you blame the horse. You say, ‘That horse wasn’t as fast as it ought to have been,’ rather than saying, ‘One of the other horses was stronger.’ Part of the lack of fairness in the post-election interpretation revolves around (Clinton). She should have won and she didn’t – what’s wrong with her?” de Clercy continued.
In Western democracies, neither men nor women vote as a block simply on gender. Nevertheless, gender played a historically significant role in this race, she continued.
“This is a gendered story about why a woman got into politics, spent her whole life in politics and why she tried to become the first female president. Is gender a factor in this? Absolutely,” de Clercy said. “Her whole campaign was rooted inescapably not only in her extensive experience as a politician, but in her experience as a female politician. And her whole reason for being in politics is her famous story – because of the exclusion, deprivation and oppression her mother suffered.”
Beyond Clinton, there are simply not that many women in politics.
Despite Clinton’s high-profile run, the number of women in Congress will remain exactly the same when the 115th Congress convenes Jan. 3. There will be 83 women in the House of Representatives, 21 women in the Senate. In the previous congressional session, there were 84 women in the House and 20 in the Senate, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.
“Some people who would have liked to see her elected are going to take (her loss) as a clear demonstration there is active opposition to having a woman in the presidency. Some people will treat this as a step backwards; there is no doubt about it. What she might be afraid of now, and what people who seek gender equality in politics are concerned about, is that the lesson is, ‘Give up. It’s not going to happen; it’s not worth it,’” de Clercy said.
Clinton tried to address this in her concession speech on Nov. 9:
To all the women, and especially the young women, who put their faith in this campaign and in me: I want you to know that nothing has made me prouder than to be your champion.
Now, I know we have still not shattered that highest and hardest glass ceiling, but someday someone will – and hopefully sooner than we might think right now.
And to all of the little girls who are watching this, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams.
The reality is, women make gains in politics in small increments. They break down barriers slowly. Legislative representation goes up by 2-3 per cent election after election.
“Clinton secured the Democratic nomination for president. She conducted an admirable campaign where she tried to talk about the issues in a context that was very partisan, very focused on difficult questions that really had nothing to do with governing,” de Clercy said.
“She pushed the ball forward. But it’s up to others now to continue to kick it toward the goal line. In her view, she helped to advance the cause of increasing women’s representation in politics, although she didn’t manage to shatter the famous glass ceiling.”
Despite being more than 51 per cent of the U.S. population, women make up only 19 per cent of Congress, a figure that puts the United States 97th out of 193 countries in terms of women’s parliamentary representation, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union. (Canada, for the record, is 63rd.)
“I teach a class on political leadership. Because of the nature of the class, I talk a lot about how political elites look demographically. How are they educated, what are their ethnic backgrounds, what are their ages?” de Clercy said. “What’s striking, when I put up slides of all of the presidents of the United States, I have all these faces of older white males, down through the ages, then Mr. Obama, an African-American male. The continued bias we will see going forward is, there is still no women represented in those ranks. What that tells me is, obviously, this remains a very difficult barrier to breach. That’s depressing.”