TV pundits and political operatives are clamoring to tell the story of what happened in the 2020 election. What is the first draft of their retelling of history? Massive voter turnout, the suburban shift away from President Donald Trump, and the enduring power of white voters are all emerging storylines. But that’s not the whole story.
As a picture of the electorate comes into focus, one point stands out: Women of color delivered President-elect Joe Biden the election. The exit polls and post-election analyses are still being finalized, but preliminary findings show that Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and Asian American women overwhelmingly voted for Biden, with 90% of Black women, 69% of Latinas, and 60% of Asian American women all supporting the incoming president. Overall, 57% of women supported Biden—a figure that would be higher if not for a majority of white women voting for Trump.
Women of color didn’t just turn out at the polls; they organized their communities and mobilized entire states to participate in this election. Look no further than Georgia. Stacey Abrams and a network of organizations registered more than 800,000 voters and mobilized an army of volunteers to combat a wave of misinformation and other suppression tactics threatening the democratic right to vote, particularly in communities of color.
Women of color did all of this in the face of significant obstacles. While we know now that the election was secure, there were concerns in the final stretch; amid news of foreign interference, ongoing voter intimidation, and perennial efforts to suppress voter turnout, officials and voters alike were bracing for the worst. At the organization I lead, YWCA USA, we surveyed women in the five key states of Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, and Pennsylvania a few weeks before Election Day. What we found was worrisome: More than a third of women in these five states were unsure whether their vote in the 2020 elections would matter or be counted accurately. In some states, women of color were even more concerned than their white counterparts that their vote would count. In Arizona, only 55% of Black women thought their vote would count, compared to 71% of white women.
Even if women weren’t certain their vote would count, they were certain about their priorities heading to the polls. Women across these five states shared deep concerns around economic security, health care, and racial justice. Health care and economic issues topped their list of concerns and priorities, often with 70% or more of each key subgroup of women saying these two issues were important to them. Across all five states, a majority of Democratic, Republican, and Independent women, white women, women of color, rural and suburban women say it is important to end police violence against people of color, which is consistent with what we found in our YWomenVote survey from earlier this year.
There was too much at stake for women of color to stay home this election. The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted communities of color and has shed a bright light on the challenges communities of color have faced for a very long time. This year’s economic crisis has disproportionately ousted women of color from the workforce, largely due to disappearing jobs in the service sector and other industries that may never recover. The summer of protests over police killings and violence against Black Americans raised the nation’s awareness of this long-standing stain on our nation. As Dr. Angela Neal-Barnett put it, “In good times racism is a stressor, in bad times racism is trauma.” Black women are sitting squarely in the middle, experiencing the cumulative traumatic impact of intersecting national crises.
Women’s voices were clear in this election: We expect the incoming president to take action on our health, economic, and racial justice priorities and concerns. YWCA’s survey findings reinforce that these priorities are shared by the women of color who overwhelmingly support Biden taking action on the following:
Equal pay for equal work. On average, Black women are paid just 61 cents, Latinas make just 53 cents, and Asian American women make 85 cents for every dollar made by their male counterparts. Biden can ensure women of color receive equal pay by championing legislation to strengthen equal pay laws, which is a high economic priority for women of color.
Access to affordable child care. Even before the pandemic, women frequently had to choose between child care and working. The pandemic laid bare the existing barriers to women’s economic participation, inequities for women and families of color, and the capacity challenges that have plagued child care providers for decades. This administration must invest in equitable, sustainable child care infrastructure that meets the needs of all women, families, and child care providers. This includes paying child care providers, who are disproportionately women of color, a fair wage and expanding access to affordable, high-quality child care to all who need it
Affordable health coverage. Health care costs remain a driving concern for women, with COVID-19’s disparate impact on communities increasing the stakes for women of color. Making health care coverage affordable, preventing insurers from refusing to cover preexisting conditions, and expanding mental health services are high priorities among women of color and must all be on the table for swift action by the Biden administration.
Safety. Women of color quite literally voted for their lives. Biden can help ensure workplaces are free from sexual violence, harassment, and discrimination, which disproportionately affect women of color and tops their list of economic priorities. The Biden White House must also champion racial justice legislation to end police violence against people of color.
Women of color showed up in this election. They voted for their health care, their economic security, their safety, and to eliminate long-standing racial discrimination. It is well past time for politicians to deliver what works for women of color. Biden must not forget who delivered him the White House—our priorities must be his.