For the past two years the American left has been haunted by a number: 53.
It is the percentage of white women who voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election.
In the sectors of the left where the figure and its implications have become a perennial theme the number is treated both as disappointing and darkly unsurprising – a reflection of the conventional wisdom that white women would rather choose the racism espoused by the Republican party than join in the moral coalition represented by men of color and other women.
On the left this number can elicit exasperation – rage and even suspicions about the moral legitimacy of the feminist project.
It casts doubts on the political convictions of liberal white women – colors leftist perception of female-coded liberal political projects like the Women’s March and has prompted long-overdue calls for increased political leadership by women of color.
The real story of white women voters is both more grim and more complex than the 53% figure reveals.
The truth is that the 53% of white women who voted for Trump in the last presidential election was actually an improvement on even worse numbers from previous cycles.
White women supported Mitt Romney at 56% in 2012 and supported George W Bush by 55% in 2004.
Even these robust showings by Republican white women were down from their previous highs: Ronald Reagan won a staggering 62% of white women in 1984.
All of these totals were lower than those for white men – who continue to support Republicans at alarming rates but they were solid majorities nonetheless.