Does gender bias explain why Hillary Clinton has fared so poorly with white male voters?

HARI SREENIVASAN: We like to think that when we step into the voting booth, we make rational decisions when casting our votes. We pick one candidate over another because of their policies, or their positions on the issues.

But there's a growing body of evidence indicating that other factors might also be at play.

William Brangham has more on that.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Hillary Clinton secured the Democratic nomination in large part by racking up big numbers with women voters, black voters and Latino voters. But she did worst among one particular demographic: white males. Why is that? Is it her policies? Or is it that she's a woman?

The "NewsHour"'s Daniel Bush has just written a fascinating piece exploring what might be going on in voters' minds and what this means for the coming election, now that we have the first woman ever at the top of a major political party.

Daniel joins me now.

I wonder, what was it you were really trying to get at with this piece?

DANIEL BUSH: There was an interesting gender gap that played out in the primaries. We saw that, in more diverse states, especially in the South, Clinton did very well with men, African-Americans, Latinos.

But once we got up into the Midwest, the Rust Belt, a different story played out. Bernie Sanders carried the male vote by 29 points in Wisconsin, by 19 points in West Virginia, and the list goes on and on and on.

And there's obviously a lot of factors why white men might not want to vote for Hillary Clinton in the general election, also in the primaries, but gender is obviously sort of an underlying current in this election.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: In your piece, you introduced me to a term I had never heard about before. It's called ambivalent sexism.

What is that?

DANIEL BUSH: So, researchers who study these issues, who study bias and stereotyping, for a long time thought that stereotyping was basically uniformly negative.

But what researchers who focus on gender specifically in the 1990s and on have realized is that gender bias takes different forms. So, there's what they call hostile sexism, sort of overtly negative views of women, what we typically associate with gender discrimination, right?

Then there's also ambivalent or benevolent sexism, which, from a male point of view, encourages men to be supportive of women who are in traditional roles, traditional gender roles, but when women step out of that, when they seek power, when they seek to enter male-dominated fields, men tend to look at them worse.

And obviously we're seeing that play out with Hillary Clinton.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: In piece, you talked with a lot of white male voters in Ohio and Pennsylvania. Obviously, when someone is asked, they're going to say, I'm not a sexist, I don't have those feelings.

So, how did you see this play out in the men that you talked to?

DANIEL BUSH: So, I talked to a lot of voters who said, yes, I feel comfortable voting for a woman, but just not Hillary Clinton. She's not the right one.

And then they went on to list a number of reasons: She's too shrill, she's too loud, she's not trustworthy.

And while they may feel that about Clinton, sort of generally speaking, on a personal level, without realizing that it has to do with gender, all of the signifiers that they used to describe a woman in power or running for a top position in government sort of come into play and are connected to the way that researchers look at gender bias and discrimination.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: How do we know with some of the other men that you talked to, or just men more broadly, that their beef with Hillary Clinton might be about her policies or her positions? I mean, how do we know that it's overtly about the fact that she's a woman?

DANIEL BUSH: On an individual, case-by-case basis, it's difficult to say, yes, this voter in particular doesn't like Hillary Clinton only because she is a woman.

And, of course, there are millions of voters across the country, in the primaries, and there will be in the general, who have legitimate policy disagreements, right, with Clinton, whether it's about health care, whether it's about taxes, and so on.

But when you really start talking to men — and in this story in particular, we were looking at white men — you see that gender is an underlying sort of current in the way that they think about Hillary Clinton.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: So, going forward, we have now an election with Trump against Hillary. How do you foresee this particular conversation playing out?

DANIEL BUSH: The people that I spoke to for this piece compared it a little bit to the change in dialogue on race relations after President Obama was elected.

And we might see a similar thing play out here where, whether Clinton wins or loses, there's going to be sort of a more — a greater public consciousness, right, about gender, about gender roles, about the way that men and women hold power in the country.

And it might be ugly. It might be divisive. We can certainly expect that in the general election campaign. But, hopefully, at least it will get people talking about it and thinking about it as well.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: All right, the "NewsHour"'s Daniel Bush, thanks for this. Great reporting.

DANIEL BUSH: Thanks for having me.

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