by Malliga Och, Idaho State University, and Shauna Shames, Rutgers University-Camden
It is too easy to dismiss the Women’s Marches as a new “Occupy,” an uproar by city-based liberals against Trump’s “heartland” voters. After all, record-breaking numbers turned out across the big and Democratic cities like DC, NYC, and LA. And it is on the big metropolitan areas that media attention has been focused: seas of pink pussy hats, captured in aerial shots and widely shared on social media. But when we dig deeper, there is a more interesting story to tell.
If the Women’s Marches indeed represent a liberal movement, we should expect greater turnout in blue states than red states. After all, we have witnessed the rise of the urban/rural divide in US politics where the Democratic Party increasingly is the party of choice in urban centers while the Republican Party dominates rural America. Indeed, it was in large metropolitan areas where we saw a massive turnout for the women’s march: these cities are major Democratic strongholds while smaller cities and more rural areas are more conservative. Confirming this trend, Clinton decisively won in cities with a population of over 1 million people and won in eight of the ten largest metro areas. But in cities with a population between 500,000 and 1 million people, Clinton lost the vote by 2 percent and Trump swept the vote in small cities (fewer than 500k people).
But utilizing data collected by Erica Chenoweth and Jeremy Pressman on turnout for each women march across the country (and averaging the high and low estimates for turnout), we find that the story is not that simple. Instead of this being just a liberal movement, the Women’s Marches last week transcended the partisan characteristics of the urban/rural divide or the blue versus red state dichotomy of the electoral college.
Getting to this more interesting story takes cautious analysis, however. Just comparing march turnout per 1,000 citizens in red versus blue states (defined simply by their 2016 presidential vote), the simple-story assumption is correct: on average, far more citizens per capita turned out in blue states than in red states. However, if we control for the influence of major cities (500,000+ people), including the national march in D.C., the results look different. Excluding major cities, the turnout per 1,000 people in the state is the same in red and blue states (.52 in blue states versus .53 in red states). The same pattern holds true when we exclude midsize cities (100,000+ people). Looking only at marches in small cities and towns, we found that the average turnout per 1,000 in the state was .31 for blue states and .28 for red states. In a regression looking only at cities and towns with fewer than 100,000, there is no significance to a variable coding for red versus blue states.
What this means is that the Women’s Marches are not just a blue-state or major-city phenomenon. Take for example Stanley, ID – population 63 – where 30 people turned out to march. This may not seem much, especially when compared with Los Angeles or New York marches, but it represents half the town’s population. To have the same turnout as Stanley, the LA march should have garnered 2 million people. And in Custer county, where Stanley is located, 74% of voters chose Donald Trump. To identify themselves in opposition in a small town (where anonymity is impossible) is a bold political act. Idaho itself is a deeply red state that has voted for the Republican candidate in the last seven presidential elections. Yet Stanley is not an exception – similar turnouts (while small in actual numbers) occurred all over red states. Alaska, for instance, even in the dead of winter, had 24 separate marches.
The data shows that the women’s march is more than just a blue state movement. The similar turnout rates across Democratic and Republican states as well as across smaller urban centers and rural areas show that the issue of gender equality and concern for women’s rights ring true beyond Democratic strongholds and are present in Republican districts and states as well. Maybe a new women’s movement has awoken supported by a new national consensus that women’s rights are human rights once and for all.