After last night’s decisive win for Hillary Clinton in New York’s primary, it’s fair to say that the ‘Hillary Bros’ — her male supporters who have hidden in the shadows — are finding their voice and laying a challenge to Bernie Sanders’ supposed dominance with men. The two candidates split the male vote, allowing Clinton to emerge with a 16-point victory and offering further proof that the conventional wisdom surrounding gender bias in the Democratic primary has been upended.
Of the 22 Democratic primaries to date, Clinton has beaten Sanders among male voters 10 times. In nine of those instances she has trounced him by double digits. In Georgia she won male voters by 33 points. In Mississippi, she won by 60.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Clinton’s biggest weakness, apart from the youth vote, is supposedly her lack of support among men. “The long-standing belief is that women vote for women, and men vote for men,” says Nichole Bauer, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Alabama, who focuses on how gender bias affects voter habits. “But in this instance, it’s a little more complicated.”
Certain portions of the male electorate remain resistant to Clinton’s candidacy, most notably those who are white and working-class. But Clinton has made significant inroads with other portions of the male electorate, including African Americans and other minorities. But over the past six months this disparate group of supporters seems to have gotten lost amid the shouting between the #ImWithHer crowd and the #BernieBros. Part of what’s keeping Hillary’s male supporters quieter is the backlash that both men and women face online for openly supporting Clinton in a primary that has increasingly turned nasty.
“I think a lot of my friends are a little puzzled and a little disappointed, and they’re probably thinking, what’s wrong with me?” says Joel Bellman, a writer and ardent Clinton supporter who for decades worked as a political aide to several Los Angeles County supervisors. When he mixes it up politically with friends on Facebook, he says, “I can feel a little outnumbered.”
Since she announced her candidacy 12 months ago, Clinton has racked up an impressive array of Y-chromosome endorsements, including those of George Clooney, Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert De Niro, Magic Johnson, J.J. Abrams, Sean Penn and virtually every male Democrat in Congress.
But Sanders’ campaign seems to lean more frequently on male celebrity endorsements. Earlier this month, a video circulated of Sanders being interviewed by Spike Lee; on the eve of yesterday’s primary, his campaign released a promotional video of an interview he did with the actor Mark Ruffalo.
Discerning Clinton’s appeal—or lack thereof—among male voters is a challenging task. Depending upon whom you ask, her greatest strengths can be the same reasons that some male voters dislike her. After 30 years in the public eye, Clinton is a known quantity and a household name. But that familiarity can cut both ways.
“I like the fact that she can be a nasty, hard person when she needs to be,” says Bellman, whose career has given him a feel for just how bare-knuckled politics can be. “You don’t always have to be like that, but you have to have that capacity.”
The prospect of electing the first female president has also been a draw for some male supporters.
“I think on some level she is able to exploit [her gender], and on some levels she has been treated unfairly,” says Matt Wilton, a 38-year-old software developer. In 2008, Wilton supported Clinton early in the primary, but ultimately switched his allegiance and voted for President Obama. He doesn’t see that happening with Sanders this time around.
“Let’s assume we live in a miraculous world where things actually get passed and the Republican-controlled Congress acquiesces. Would their policies be effective? Would we end up in a better world? One of the problems I have with Sanders is his rhetoric doesn’t match up with his policy.”
In a recent national poll Clinton, trailed Sanders among male voters by 17 percentage points, and Sanders’ formidable grassroots network will likely continue to drown out male Clinton supporters. But for Eric Spiegelman, a 39-year-old lawyer in Los Angeles, the hype surrounding Sanders has been enough to cement his support of Clinton. “I’ve been suckered by hype enough for one lifetime,” he explains. “I value people who understand and know how to exercise authority. And Hillary knows how to use the levers of executive authority. I am 100 percent sure of that.”
Peter Kiefer is a Los Angeles-based writer. He previously wrote about the science behind making a baby out of two sperm for MEL.