How Did Race, Gender, Class, and Education Influence the Election?

On November 8, 2016 Donald Trump won the presidential election. Exit polls show that race was the deciding factor within the election, with white voters overwhelmingly choosing him over Clinton.
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton takes the stage with Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump during the Presidential Debate at Hofstra University on September 26, 2016 in Hempstead, New York. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

On November 8, 2016, Donald Trump won the election for president of the United States, despite the fact that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote. For many social scientists, pollsters and voters, Trump's win came as a shock. The number one trusted political data website FiveThirtyEight gave Trump less than a 30 percent chance of winning on the eve of the election. So how did he win? Who came out for the controversial Republican candidate?

In this slideshow, we take a look at the demographics behind Trump's win using exit poll data from CNN, which draws on survey insights from 24,537 voters from across the nation to illustrate trends within the electorate.

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How Gender Affected the Vote

In the 2016 U.S. presidential election more men chose Trump and more women chose Clinton.

Unsurprisingly, given the heated gender politics of the battle between Clinton and Trump, exit poll data show that the majority of men voted for Trump while the majority of women voted for Clinton. In fact, their differentials are nearly mirror images of each other, with 53 percent of men choosing Trump and 54 percent of women choosing Clinton.

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The Impact of Age on Voters' Choice

Voters under 40 years of age chose Clinton over Trump in the 2016 presidential election while older voters chose Trump.

CNN's data show that voters under the age of 40 overwhelmingly voted for Clinton, though the proportion of them who did declined progressively with age. Voters older than 40 chose Trump in nearly equal measure, with more of those over 50 preferring him even more.

Illustrating what many consider a generational divide in values and experiences in the U.S. population today, support for Clinton was greatest, and for Trump weakest, among America's youngest voters, while support for Trump was greatest among the nation's oldest members of the electorate.

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White Voters Won the Race for Trump

Whites overwhelmingly voted for Trump in the 2016 U.S. presidential election while people of color overwhelmingly voted for Clinton.

Exit polling data show that white voters overwhelmingly chose Trump. In a show of racialized preference that shocked many, just 37 percent of white voters supported Clinton, while the vast majority of Blacks, Latinos, Asian Americans and those of other races voted for the Democrat. Trump faired most poorly among Black voters, though gained more votes from those in other minority racial groups.

The racial divide among the electorate played out in violent and aggressive ways in the days following the election, as hate crimes against people of color and those perceived to be immigrants soared.

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Trump Did Better With Men Overall Regardless of Race

Majorities of both white men and women voted for Trump in the 2016 presidential election.

A simultaneous look at voters’ race and gender simultaneously reveals some stark gender differences within race. While white voters preferred Trump regardless of gender, men were much more likely to vote for the Republican than were white women voters.

Trump, in fact, earned more votes from men overall regardless of race, highlighting the gendered nature of voting in this election.

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White Voters Chose Trump Regardless of Age

Whites of all ages chose Trump over Clinton in the 2016 presidential election, while people of color of all ages voted for Clinton.

Looking at the age and race of voters simultaneously reveals that white voters preferred Trump regardless of age, a likely surprise to many social scientists and pollsters who expected the Millennial generation to overwhelmingly favor Clinton. In the end, white Millennials actually favored Trump, as did white voters of all ages, though his popularity was greatest with those over the age of 30.

Conversely, Latinos and Blacks overwhelmingly voted for Clinton across all age groups, with the highest rates of support among Blacks aged 45 and higher.

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Education Had a Strong Impact on the Election

Voters with less than a college education chose Trump over Clinton while those with a college degree or more chose Clinton in the 2016 presidential election.

Mirroring voter preferences throughout the primaries, Americans with less than a college degree favored Trump over Clinton while those with a college degree or more voted for the Democrat. Clinton’s greatest support came from those with a postgraduate degree.

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Race Overpowered Education Among White Voters

Whites preferred Trump regardless of their education level in the 2016 presidential election.

However, looking at education and race simultaneously once again reveals the greater influence of race on voter preference in this election. More white voters with a college degree or more choose Trump over Clinton, though at a lower rate than those without a college degree.

Among voters of color, education did not have much an influence on their vote, with near equal majorities of those with and without college degrees voting for Clinton.

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White Educated Women Were the Outliers

White college educated women were the only whites, sorted by education level and gender, who chose Clinton over Trump in the presidential election.

Looking specifically at white voters, exit poll data shows that it was only women with college degrees or more who preferred Clinton out of all white voters across educational levels. Again, we see that the majority of white voters preferred Trump, regardless of education, which contradicts earlier beliefs about the influence of education level on this election.

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How Income Level Influenced Trump's Win

Working class and poor Americans voted for Clinton in the 2016 presidential election while wealthier Americans voted for Trump.

Another surprise from exit polls is how voters made their choice when slotted by income. Data during the primary showed that Trump’s popularity was greatest among poor and working class whites, while wealthier voters preferred Clinton. However, this table shows that voters with incomes under $50,000 actually preferred Clinton to Trump, while those with higher incomes favored the Republican.

These results are likely compounded by the fact that Clinton was far more popular among voters of color, and Blacks and Latinos are vastly overrepresented among lower income brackets in the U.S., while whites are overrepresented among higher income brackets.

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Married Voters Chose Trump

Married voters chose Trump in the 2016 presidential election while unmarried voters chose Clinton.

Interestingly, married voters preferred Trump while unmarried voters preferred Clinton. This finding reflects the known correlation between heteronormative gender norms and a preference for the Republican party.

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But Gender Overrode Marital Status

Married men overwhelmingly voted for Trump in the 2016 presidential election.

However, when we look at marital status and gender simultaneously we see that a majority of voters in each category chose Clinton, and that it was just married men who overwhelmingly voted for Trump. By this measure,? Clinton’s popularity was greatest among unmarried women, with the vast majority of that population choosing the Democrat over the Republican.

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Christians Elected Trump

Christian voters overwhelmingly chose Trump in the 2016 presidential election while Jews, those of other religions and those without religion chose Clinton.

Reflecting trends during the primaries, Trump captured the majority of the Christian vote. Meanwhile, voters who subscribe to other religions or who do not practice religion at all overwhelmingly voted for Clinton. This demographic data may come as surprise given the president-elect's attacks on various groups throughout the election season, an approach that some interpret as at odds with Christian values. However, it is clear from the data that Trump's message struck a chord with Christians and alienated other groups.  

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Your Citation
Cole, Nicki Lisa, Ph.D. "How Did Race, Gender, Class, and Education Influence the Election?" ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, Cole, Nicki Lisa, Ph.D. (2021, February 16). How Did Race, Gender, Class, and Education Influence the Election? Retrieved from Cole, Nicki Lisa, Ph.D. "How Did Race, Gender, Class, and Education Influence the Election?" ThoughtCo. (accessed May 29, 2023).