Meeting the women who voted for Donald Trump

Filmmaker Salome Oggenfuss travelled to Pennsylvania in an effort to understand the billionaire businessman’s appeal

There were a lot of disappointing things about this month’s US election. Perhaps some of the most disturbing (bearing in mind there’s an abundance of options here) were the stats that were revealed in the days after the result. Republican Donald J. Trump was chosen to become president by 53 per cent of white women, despite running a campaign that showed a flagrant disdain for their rights. This is the same man who has promised to defund Planned Parenthood, and reverse the country’s abortion policies. The same man that has been accused of sexual assault by 12 women, and has boasted of grabbing others “by the pussy”. 

For New York filmmakers Salome Oggenfuss and Mitra Bonshahi, these stats were too shocking to ignore. After hearing about Trump’s win, Oggenfuss felt an “immediate need” to talk to the women who had chosen to support him. Heading two hours west to the newly red state of Pennsylvania, she eventually found six who were happy to share their stories. According to Oggenfuss, the results – now viewable above – were “very disheartening.”

“Memes and late night TV shows presented the typical Trump voter to us as a sort of caricature of an alt right, misogynist persona,” the filmmaker explains. “There are millions of people in this country who support Trump, and not all of them for the same reasons.” We caught up with her to find out more. 

Some of these interviews were quite hard to sit through. How did you feel about what these women said?

Salome Oggenfuss: For the most part, we found that people were either ignorant of the issues, voted along party lines, or chose Trump because he was the lesser of two evils. Nearly all of the women also made excuses for Trump’s racist and misogynistic remarks. They chose what they wanted to hear and align with in regards to Trumps’ platform, which in many respects happens on both sides of the political spectrum. Politics are tribal in a way and people vote according to the place where they live, how their family and peers vote, and the ideas and people they are exposed to. It’s important to remember though that it is not constructive to direct hate at individuals. These opinions are symptoms of a failed system – clickbait culture that only allows for shallow journalism, the failure of neoliberalism, a higher education system that is only available to the financial elites.  

“Nearly all of the women also made excuses for Trump’s racist and misogynistic remarks. They chose what they wanted to hear” – Salome Oggenfuss

Despite the racism and sexism that drove his campaign, Trump is extremely popular with white women. In the film we see examples of this, with many of the women being very misogynistic themselves. Why do you think they feel this way?

Salome Oggenfuss: We asked many of these women who their female role models were. Many of them said ‘President so-and-so’s wife’ (Bush, Reagan…). Many of them spoke admiringly of Trump’s wife and children. For them, the pinnacle of a successful life seems to be being a good mother and wife. These women did not see themselves in a candidate like Hillary Clinton. But, at the same time, many of them did say they were open to the idea of a female president. A lot of what was said was contradictory. The only thing we did really come to find was that the women we interviewed dismissed Trump’s misogynistic remarks over and over again.

Do you believe they’ve been misinformed? 

Salome Oggenfuss: None of the people we spoke with seemed to care much about policy or know how Trump would actually execute his policies. They were swayed by his populist rhetoric. They are fed up with the political system, perhaps scared of losing entitlement, and reacting against eight years of a democratic presidency. It was an emotional vote, and they felt like they were better represented by someone like Trump than someone like Hillary, who is their eyes is a career politician. 

Did any of these interviews make you feel hopeful or positive?

Salome Oggenfuss: It was hard to feel hope after these conversations and having to deal with the amount of people that were unwilling to even have a conversation. But we are grateful for these six women who allowed us to speak to them and interview them. The lifestyles of people in the city and in the country are so different, and it takes some effort to understand and communicate with people from the other side. We think it’s important people go out there and create dialogues, be it through journalism, art, activism or whatever suits them. 

Watch the full film above. This interview has been edited and condensed for length