The White Women Who Voted for Trump in 2016—And Changed Their Minds in 2020

They refuse to make the same mistake again in November.

white women who voted for donald trump
(Image credit: Design By Morgan McMullen)

The stories typically start the same way: "I thought he would bring a different style of leadership." "I never liked Hillary Clinton." "I didn't want a 'regular' politician." Yet at different points over the past four years, five white women realized they'd made a terrible mistake: They voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election.

White women were one of Trump's largest voting blocs in 2016—exit polls show that 52 percent of white women who voted cast a ballot for him, compared to four percent of Black women and 25 percent of Latinx women. In fact, original data spliced by Marie Claire reveals that if only white women had voted for Trump in 2016, he would have won by an additional 51 electoral votes. Today, President Trump is running on a racist platform that suggests the suburbs, where most of these white women reside, won't be safe in Joe Biden's America. Except this time around, polls are predicting the president's divisive rhetoric won't work—a point that bears out in the interviews we conducted.

For Joni F., a lifelong Republican who didn't tell her Democrat husband she voted for Trump in 2016, it took the president's ill-mannered reaction to U.S. Senator John McCain's death for her to see the type of person Trump truly is. For Jessica F., the ramifications of a Trump administration didn't settle in until COVID-19 hit and she watched the president grossly mishandle a pandemic that's killed 200,000 Americans and counting.

Although these women didn't wake up the morning after Election Day 2016 terrified, anxious, hopeless, and distraught, they realize that many other Americans did. And now they're doing their part to ensure no one feels that way on November 4, 2020.

The Issues Most Important to Her: Women’s Rights, Racial Justice, LGBTQ Rights

"I voted for Donald Trump in 2016 for the sake of the economy. I tend to lean left on social issues (gay marriage, abortion, etc.), but lean more right on business and economic issues. While I still lean right on economic issues, I can no longer stand by and see basic rights being taken away from the LGBTQ community, women, and Black people. I moved to Washington, D.C., a year ago and have been exposed to new ideas and thinking. Voting for Trump in 2016 is not something I'm proud of, and I've always kept it to myself.

My dad is part of the military, so I grew up in a lot of places, but for the majority of my life I lived in Georgia. Leaning more right for economic and business issues I got from my parents, but for social issues I would say that me and my parents disagree quite a bit. I've always kept politics separate, but my older sister doesn't keep politics separate, and I saw the division that it caused [between her and my parents].

My parents know that for this election, I am planning on voting for Joe Biden. They're definitely not very happy about it, and they'll make remarks like, 'I wish you wouldn't.' I've just told them that the things that I've seen go on socially in our world in the last four years, morally, I can't continue to support that.

In 2016, the opponent made a big difference because I really just felt like Hillary was very corrupt and, for a while, I did debate on voting for a third party. But, at the end of the day, I think that fails the system because that third party isn't likely to win, so then it's just taking the vote away.

I realized that I made a mistake in voting for Trump somewhere towards the middle of his presidency. I don't really know if I could pinpoint an exact moment or thing, but I think it was just a buildup of little things that were happening, like his tweets, what he would say in the media, and people he was appointing as Supreme Court justices. I'd been going back and forth on who I'm voting for, but within the last year my beliefs and concerns have really been reinforced and convinced me to vote for Biden.

trump nominates judge amy coney barrett for supreme court vacancy

Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett speaking at the Rose Garden on September 26, 2020. Coney Barrett is anti-choice—posing a threat to the future of Roe v. Wade—and LGBTQ+ rights organizations have warned against her confirmation.

(Image credit: The Washington Post)

If Trump wins reelection, my biggest concern would be the open Supreme Court seat. I think it would set us back many, many years regarding different rulings related to women's rights and LGBTQ rights. Also, I think another big concern is the Black Lives Matter movement because I see that it's not really being taken seriously by right-wing people. If Trump were reelected, it wouldn't personally affect me because I'm straight and I'm white. It might affect me as a woman, but as far as Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ+ rights—where they have so much more on the line—I would tell [other white women] to try and put themselves in the perspective of those who are not as advantaged as we are."

—Taylor K., 26, Virginia

The Issues Most Important to Her: COVID-19, Gun Violence, Racial Justice

"I will be 62 years old in a couple of weeks. I'm a lifelong Republican. I voted for Reagan in 1980. Now, I live in Montana—a deep red state. I voted for Donald Trump in 2016 because I never liked Hillary Clinton. I always felt like she was dishonest and opportunistic, and that her main reason for wanting to be president was so that she could be the first woman president. She always talked about that, and that was just a huge turnoff to me. I just didn't like her. Even though I didn't particularly care for Trump (and the remarks he makes about women, his demeanor), I took a chance on him. I thought, Okay, I'm going to vote for him anyway, because he's not a politician, and I want to see what he does with the presidency. I felt like maybe he could make things happen with non-traditional methods.

That didn't turn out so well.

I wasn't really vocal about who I was voting for back then. In fact, I didn't even tell my husband, although I think he kind of knew. My husband is a Democrat, but he's a moderate Democrat and I'm a moderate Republican. I voted for Barack Obama the first time, but I voted for Mitt Romney in 2012.

[My husband] has been really supportive and proud of me for using my voice. I have never been particularly interested in politics, but stopping Donald Trump has prompted me to make testimonial videos for Republican Voters Against Trump (RVAT) and 43 Alumni for Biden. I like that Biden can cross party lines to get things done. I have donated to the Biden campaign and the Lincoln Project. I even watch CNN. Now, I feel like [my husband and I] can talk about politics. Before I'd just be like, 'I don't want to talk about that. It doesn't interest me.' But, we talk about politics in a new way. In fact, he tells me, 'If you were still supporting Trump, I would probably have to divorce you.' I said, 'I wouldn't blame you.'

Before Trump took office, I told myself, 'That's just Trump' whenever he'd say or do ridiculous things. After he took office, his actions went from outrageous to downright dangerous. The tide really turned for me when he had to be convinced to lower the flag to half-staff after John McCain's death. The way he treated the family was disgusting. From that moment on, I put his actions under a microscope. When COVID-19 hit, I was outraged. After the death of George Floyd—disgusted. His economy is a false economy. It looks good, but it's not real. People tend to look at the stock market as the economy, but they're not the same thing. I don't believe that Trump is a Republican, and I don't think he represents the Republican party. He has his own party.

I get flack from my neighbors because I'm vocal about who I'm voting for. Some neighbors have been very accepting as far as saying, 'I don't agree with you, but that doesn't make me not want to be your friend or your neighbor.' Then I've had other's the ones that are so Christian that shun you. I'm a Christian, and that isn't Christian in my book.

I wasn't really vocal about who I was voting for back then. In fact, I didn't even tell my husband.

I have family friends who are evangelical Christians, and they're hardcore Trump supporters. It doesn't seem to matter what you say [about Trump], you can't convince them otherwise. They're the same people you see at his crowded rallies, not wearing masks, jammed together because they believe whatever he says. It's like a cult. He has to be stopped. If this is bad now, can you imagine how he'll be the next four years, knowing he can't be reelected? The country may never recover from the damage he'll inflict. God help us!"

—Joni F., 62, Montana

The Issues Most Important to Her: COVID-19, the Rule of Law, Democracy

"I was disillusioned by 'regular' politicians, and I hoped someone, not a 'regular politician,' would be better. I had been negatively impacted by an action of President Obama's, and I would not support Hillary Clinton because of that. President Obama shut down Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in Nevada in 2009. That's where my husband worked, and we had to move to Washington state because he was transferred there. I ended up getting a job at a company that was up to something illegal, and I basically was a whistleblower. Long story short, I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in 2012. I was in a very dark place in my life and, in my opinion, I would not have been there if not for President Obama.

I had to move—we're in Phoenix now—and my husband and I lived apart for a few years before he could get a transfer down here. For the longest time, I couldn't watch any news. It triggered everything. I didn't even vote in 2012, and that was a big deal for me. My father was a World War II veteran and we were raised that it was your duty to vote. In 2016, I thought, Okay, here's someone who is outside the political realm, maybe it will be okay. I didn't see how horrible he was. I wasn't voting for him so much as I was voting against the establishment. At one point, my son actually screamed, 'He's a f*cking Nazi' at me, but we never let that rip our family apart. I said at the time, 'How bad can it be? We have a system of checks and balances.' Who knew that the Republicans were going to be just a bunch of sycophants?

The turning point for me was when Trump sent American troops on peaceful protestors in Lafayette Square in June. That's when my eyes were just ripped wide open. He has no honor, no character, no integrity, and no honesty. I was raised by a man of integrity, to have integrity, and to expect it from others. I had my head in the sand and should have known better than to vote for Trump. I will probably never ever be a Republican again.

I feel that I am partially responsible for the deaths of over 200,000 people from COVID-19—and quite possibly the death of America, if the evil creature currently occupying the White House somehow manages to cheat his way into reelection. He is a fascist, and wants to be 'president for life.'

My sister and her family are all die-hard 'Trumpers' who will not leave the cult. They have called me 'crazy' and told me that my 'family is not real' because 'we live on the coast.' (Again, I live in Arizona.) I remember it was June 3rd, and my sister had posted something on Facebook like, 'Trump is my president. He may not be...' blah blah blah. My daughter replied saying, 'How can you possibly still vote for him? Maybe you don't have all the facts. If you think he cares for anyone but himself, then you're DELUSIONAL.'

She was trying to change the world, which you cannot do here. It's a flipping cult. My daughter called my sister that night. My sister called her some names, including an 'entitled millennial witch' or something like that, then hung up on her.

My daughter called my husband crying. My sister texted me, 'Your daughter just called me to say who I can and can not vote for. I will probably never speak to her again.' After the dust settled, I sent my sister a fairly lengthy email. I said, 'I'm really disappointed that you're putting politics over family.' Then she basically cut us off. Her birthday was July 2, I sent her a music box with the Serenity Prayer on it. I said, 'May you have the wisdom to see how evil Trump is, and the courage to do something about vote for America and not him.' I called her because we always call on birthdays. She would not take my call.

I feel that I am partially responsible for the deaths of over 200,000 people from COVID-19—and quite possibly the death of America.

I've rarely argued politics but, to me, this is not Democratic versus Republican. This is good versus evil. This the future of our country versus Oh my god. Are we going to turn into a fascist regime? Germany only took about 10 years to go from democracy to fascism. I put that in the email to my sister, too.

I just think it's incredibly sad that so many people, like me, have had their families ripped apart. My sister and her family are lost. I pray for them every day. I just found out that my son and his wife are expecting their second child. The first thing I normally would have done is call my sister. Now, I can't. Whenever I bring that up, I'm sad again."

—Ann K., 59, Arizona

The Issues Most Important to Her: Police Reform, Health Care, Getting Trump Out

"I didn't want to vote for Hillary, and my Republican friends assured me that since Donald Trump was a businessman, he would be good for our country. I was Republican, but I am not sure I will go back again. I just registered as an Independent in my state, which will allow me to vote for either party in the primaries.

My husband, who I was dating at the time, tried to discourage me from voting for Trump, but I had been a Republican since 1972 and I trusted some of my friends who were encouraging me to vote Trump. I accept the blame.

When COVID-19 came along, that was the straw that broke the camel's back. I knew I could not [vote for him again]. He's like a dictator. He talks about how much power he has. It really upsets me that I have voted for this. It's been hard to step out of that cognitive dissonance, and walk away from my core beliefs. Being a Republican is one of those core beliefs. I know that [mine] wasn't the vote that made him president, but the fact that I fell for this horrible man's lies, at my age, makes me feel ashamed.

One of the main reasons [white women voted for Trump in 2016] is the abortion issue, and I know that's why they are going to vote for Trump again. Several spiritual leaders who I respected (and yes, that is past tense) have said Trump was sent by God. The other main reason is the economy, but now I know that all of those reasons are just smoke and mirrors. I'm pro-life, but I'm still not going to vote for Trump. I am voting for Joe Biden because he is the better choice by far. After watching the Democratic National Convention and Republican National Convention, I no longer had any qualms about voting for Biden. The conventions were like day and night. Good and evil.

After watching the DNC and RNC, I no longer had any qualms about voting for Biden. The conventions were like day and night. Good and evil.

I have had at least five or six people unfriend me, and one girl is trying to hang on. She's just not happy with me. She thinks I've changed so much, that I'm not the sweet girl that she knew, that I've become hateful. I'm not seeing any hate from me. What's unfortunate is that anyone who I term as a 'Trumpster' considers anything that is news against Trump 'fake news.' I'm not saying that Reagan was all that great with how he handled a lot of things, but he did have integrity, and I think that Obama had integrity. I think Biden has integrity, too. Yes, he's done some things that he's ashamed of, but he's admitted it and you will never have Trump admit he's done anything that he's ashamed of.

More than anything, I'm worried that our country is going to lose our democracy. Trump has just been chipping away at it for the last four years. Another concern is that I'm on social security. I'm 73 years old, and he's talking about taking payroll tax away. I don't trust him. I'm worried about my country. It's not about a party anymore. It's about a country that needs a good leader. It's been a painful experience stepping out of cognitive dissonance, and I want people to see that. However, most of my 'voting for Trump' friends just think I'm a foolish old woman or, at best, a traitor. I can't change what I did, but I can move on and do the right thing."

—Helen L., 73, Colorado

The Issues Most Important to Her: Reproductive Rights, Police Reform, Health Care

"I live in a little town in Georgia called Rockmart. The whole county voted for Donald Trump. I voted for Trump because, like a lot of other people have said, I really didn't see him as the career politician. I thought he had some good ideas. You know, he made some good promises as far as bringing industrialization and manufacturing back to the country. I thought those things were what we needed as a country. That ended up not happening.

The moment I realized I made a mistake was during the coronavirus. I'm not necessarily your typical Trump voter, I didn't drink the Kool-Aid. I'm not a 'Make America Great Again' rah, rah kind of person. Before, I looked at it as, Okay, everybody slings mud at everybody else in government. That's what they do. You can kind of tune out a lot of it. Then, when the coronavirus hit and he took no responsibility for the situation, that was pretty much what ripped it with me. If you don't take responsibility, who gets the responsibility? You're the president. He knew it was worse than he told the American people, and he wanted to keep it under wraps because he didn't want to make himself look bad. It had nothing to do with not wanting to incite panic. Have you seen the cities around here?

If the COVID-19 pandemic didn't happen, the George Floyd situation would have more than likely happened. Could I support somebody who is blunt about being a racist? No. I think it was destined that I was not going to vote for him again. The fact that he let Russia put bounties on American soldiers' heads and still to this day has not addressed it on a national level? Then to call them 'suckers' and 'losers' because they died in battle? Well, my grandfather gave 32 years to the service and fought in three wars. I don't appreciate that at all. If it wasn't one thing, it was going to be another.

For [the largest voting bloc in 2016] to be white, suburban women, maybe they felt like they were the party that wasn't getting heard. Women, in general, have felt like their voices weren't really heard in any major election or event. This gave them that platform, and this was the way to get people to pay attention.

We have four years to deal with what Joe Biden does or does not do. I honestly think Kamala Harris is going to be the driving force behind that presidency, and that's okay. Trump's diehard, 'Make America Great Again' white women may not be the ones that are going to support Kamala Harris, because she's not white. Does that lay ground for their continuation of racism, or are they going to say, 'Hey, we have a strong woman, regardless of color, in the White House who's going to make sure our voices are heard?' I'm not sure.

us politics vote democrats

Presidential nominee Joe Biden and vice-presidential nominee Kamala Harris lock hands at the conclusion of the virtual Democratic National Convention (DNC) in August 2020.

(Image credit: OLIVIER DOULIERY)

I voted across party lines my whole life (I voted for Obama; I voted for Clinton; I voted for Bush) because I don't hard-and-fast believe in everything that either [party] says. No, I'm not necessarily all into Joe Biden. But I do not think he's a socialist. I do not think he's trying to take away our Second Amendment rights. I do not think he's trying to take away freedom of speech. I do not think he's trying to pass random abortions at full term. I don't believe any of that. I just don't want to see Trump continue to divide this country and destroy us.

Typically, you vote for who you think is going to do the best job. And if he doesn't do the greatest job, we can repair the damage. But this president? I don't think we can repair the damage. What he's doing is about more than just policy. What he's doing is destructive to the country itself and the people. That's my biggest issue. I want other people to realize that it's okay to change your mind. It's okay to have questions. You're not alone."

—Jessica F., 49, Georgia

Interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.


progressive women 2020

(Image credit: Design By Susanna Hayward)

topshot us politics vote democrats

(Image credit: OLIVIER DOULIERY)
Rachel Epstein

Rachel Epstein is a writer, editor, and content strategist based in New York City. Most recently, she was the Managing Editor at Coveteur, where she oversaw the site’s day-to-day editorial operations. Previously, she was an editor at Marie Claire, where she wrote and edited culture, politics, and lifestyle stories ranging from op-eds to profiles to ambitious packages. She also launched and managed the site’s virtual book club, #ReadWithMC. Offline, she’s likely watching a Heat game or finding a new coffee shop.