The secret Clinton vote

A funny thing happened in California: Senator Bernie Sanders lost the primary by kind of a lot. This came as a dismaying shock to many of the Senator’s supporters, who had been convinced that he’d win the state despite all polls to the contrary. In the event he lost, they thought, it would be by a tiny margin, making it clear that the Senator was competitive in a state that’s critical for the Democrats. But that didn’t happen, and inevitably, the conspiracy theories arose.

Falsified election results. Dragging out the count of absentee ballots. Who knows. Whatever the reason, there was some sort of sinister explanation for their candidate’s failure to dominate in California. The most logical explanation apparently didn’t occur to them: Maybe he lost because Secretary Hillary Clinton got more votes.

Secretary Clinton’s pre-election polling might have made it look like it could be a close race, but her supporters turned out in droves on election day, and they revealed some interesting patterns. Many theorised that they’d been there all along, but they’d been in stealth mode, and I can’t blame them. The level of vitriol and abuse in this election has been such that open supporters were being harassed and hounded through every possible venue, and that was pretty sobering for everyone else. People might have preferred to remain in stealth rather than deal with the consequences of openly supporting their candidate — especially when these vicious divides often came down within individual families. No one wants to spend months with children, spouses, parents, and other relatives screaming misogynistic abuse at them, which is what is happening to supporters who are out and proud.

It seems ridiculous to talk about being ‘out’ for a candidate like being ‘out’ of the closet, but in a way, this election has really felt like a dangerous calculus for those who choose to openly discuss the fact that they intend to vote for Secretary Clinton — let alone those who campaign for her. The sheer level of cruelty leveled at people who decide after careful consideration, reflection, and research that they’d like to pick her as their candidate is really unbelievable, and it’s infuriating that people continue to hide behind the fig leaf that this is about politics. It’s about misogyny. If Secretary Clinton was a man, plenty of people would still be (validly) criticising her policy proposals and history, but things would not be nearly this vicious.

It’s not surprising that, under those circumstances, people might prefer to remain under the radar about their support. And that meant that a lot of voters weren’t being counted in polls, which meant that we had a very skewed picture of what California was looking like in advance of the election. That was also paired with the perennial refusal to actually show up and vote on the part of Senator Sanders’ supporters, all of whom liked to talk a big talk, spew misogynistic abuse at people on Twitter, and then quietly sit at home on election day instead of turning out, while legions of supporters on the other side who were fed up with being treated like shit for having political opinions were ready to turn out in force for their candidate.

The idea that there’s a ‘secret’ Clinton vote didn’t surprise me when I saw it floated around, and it wouldn’t surprise me now, either. Who wants to go through the emotional exhaustion of being repeatedly attacked for supporting a political candidate that other people don’t like primarily because she’s a woman, no matter how they try to dress it up?  (And oh, how they try to dress it up — displaying a truly outstanding level of ignorance about both candidates’ actual platforms and policy proposals, while they’re at it.)

When Clinton claimed the nomination, triggering a predictable tide of whining about stolen elections and taking it to the convention and conspiracies, I was struck by the fact that even though this should be done and dusted, it’s still dangerous for her supporters to be open about their allegiances. And I use dangerous advisedly — it’s not a word I throw around lightly. This election year has seen an incredibly high level of tension and it’s already led to physical attacks, but also systemic emotional ones. Being repeatedly verbally battered is incredibly draining and damaging, and this has been a traumatic election for many people who have the audacity to openly admit that they support Secretary Clinton — whether they’re super-enthused by her as a candidate, think she’s reasonable though not amazing, or view her as the lesser of two evils. This has been an election about purity tests and sanctimoniousness and confident assertions, and that drove a lot of people into hiding.

It really dismays me to know that I live in a country where people feel like they have to hide who they’re voting for, because while voting is a personal matter — I’m not disclosing who I chose to vote for in the primary — people should never feel like they have to hide their support for fear of their safety. Concerns about being viciously attacked should not factor into whether people decide to talk about their candidate, and how they decide to talk about their candidate. The fact that they do, that Secretary Clinton’s supporters really do have a stealth network of people who reach out to help each other because it is so dangerous to have a political opinion, is a deeply disturbing testimony to what this country has become.

Photo: Hillary in Sepia, Alan C., Flickr