clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Why the Women's March on Washington drew bigger crowds than Trump’s inauguration

A new poll explains why a women’s march, specifically, inspired so many people to protest Trump.

Anti-Trump Protesters Continue To Demonstrate Across The Country Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The Women’s March on Washington drew at least 500,000 people to the streets of Washington, DC on Saturday — a crowd roughly three times bigger than the audience at President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration the day before, crowd scientists told the New York Times. Nationwide, the Women’s March may have been the largest demonstration in US history, with at least 3.3 million people attending marches in more than 500 cities.

Organizers said the event was a march for women’s rights, not a protest against Trump. But for all practical purposes, the rally became the largest gathering on inauguration weekend of people who either opposed Trump or were seriously worried about what he will do as president.

It’s not surprising why Trump’s inauguration had a low turnout when compared with previous inaugurations, particularly Obama’s. His approval ratings are historically low for a new president just taking office, and he lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes.

But that doesn’t explain why the Women’s March, specifically, drew so many people. It may seem remarkable that of all the concerns many Americans have about a Trump presidency — including the open racial resentment that his campaign fueled, and his many conflicts of interest and troubling ties to Russia, to name a few — that his views on women would inspire the most people to gather in the streets.

But according to a massive new post-election survey on how Americans view gender issues, this development shouldn’t surprise us at all.

PerryUndem, a nonpartisan public opinion research firm in Washington, DC, released last week what may be the most comprehensive public survey that exists (at least in recent years) on Americans’ views toward gender equality, sexism, and women’s rights.

The 120-question poll covers a lot of ground, both on general attitudes about gender equality and on how Americans felt about specific gender issues surrounding the 2016 election. The poll was conducted from December 9 through 27, 2016, among a nationally representative sample of 1,302 adults, with an oversampling of black and Latino adults for more accurate results about that demographic.

One of the poll’s many striking findings is this: While it may not have lost Trump the election in the end, the leaked 2005 Access Hollywood tape that featured Trump bragging about his ability to sexually assault women — specifically, that he could “grab [women] by the pussy,” kiss them without consent, and do whatever he wanted to them because he’s a star — had a major impact on many Americans, and hasn’t been forgotten.

Most Americans surveyed, 83 percent, remembered hearing about the tape. Almost all of those surveyed (91 percent) said they found Trump’s comments “unacceptable,” and most (61 percent overall, 66 percent of women, and 55 percent of men) said they felt “upset” by the comments.

And many of those who felt upset were actually motivated to do something about it.

Trump’s leaked comments about sexual assault may have directly inspired many people to take political action

The survey asked respondents whether, as a direct result of Trump’s win, they had decided to take various actions — from talking to their kids about sexual assault and consent to donating to an organization to thinking about running for office themselves or helping more women get elected.

Two-thirds of respondents said they had done one or more of these things.

PerryUndem Gender Equality Report

Fifty-eight percent also said they had taken one or more of three political actions that didn’t specifically relate to gender: donating to an organization, figuring out how to get more involved in political issues, and paying more attention to elected officials’ actions.

And when PerryUndem analyzed the factors that correlated with just those non-gendered political actions, they found something interesting.

Being “upset” about the Trump tape was the most reliable predictor of how likely someone was to take political action as a direct result of Trump’s election. The second most reliable predictor of taking political action was the belief that the country would be better off with more women in political office.

No other factors, including party affiliation, were significantly correlated with taking political action. Even after ruling out how people felt about Trump’s comments on that tape, a respondent’s general feelings about Trump, whether favorable or not, didn’t correlate with political action either.

These findings give extra statistical weight to the many reports that women’s political organizations are seeing a huge surge of women interested in learning how to run for office. Many women, it seems — motivated by Trump’s win and Clinton’s loss — are trying to be the change they want to see in the world when it comes to women’s representation in government.

The poll has many other significant findings on gender attitudes in general, and the 2016 election specifically


The poll was designed by PerryUndem partners Tresa Undem and Mike Perry, who took the unusual step for a polling firm of designing their own survey rather than working on behalf of a client. Their firm’s other research over the past few years has turned up a lot of anger and frustration among Americans over women’s rights, Perry told reporters on a press call Tuesday — and they worried that if they didn’t get a detailed baseline measurement of these broader attitudes themselves, nobody else would.

The 2016 presidential election was, of course, dominated by gender politics. It pitted Donald Trump’s hypermasculinity, and the revelations that more than a dozen women have accused him of sexual assault, against Hillary Clinton, a lifelong self-identified feminist who could have been the first woman president of the United States.

But until now we had very little data, other than exit polls, on what voters really thought about specific gender issues and how they potentially shaped their votes.

When it came to the Trump tapes, for instance, more women said they felt “upset” than men (66 percent versus 55 percent). One in five women (20 percent) reported mental or emotional stress, and one in eight women (12 percent) said the tapes caused them to reexperience a past trauma. That’s consistent with many media accounts, my own included, on how survivors of rape and domestic violence have felt triggered both by the Trump tapes specifically and by Trump’s abusive rhetoric more generally.

The poll also yielded interesting results when respondents were asked how they felt about women in government. Who makes better leaders, women or men? Would the country be better off if more women were in government, or not?

One-third of men and one-quarter of women who voted for Trump (32 and 25 percent, respectively) said that men generally made better political leaders than women, compared with 16 percent of respondents overall. And 36 percent of Trump voters (compared with 11 percent of men who voted for Clinton and 5 percent of women who voted for Clinton) disagreed that the country would be better off with more women in political office.

These results fit into a broader pattern suggested by the survey results. While an overwhelming majority of survey takers (93 percent) say they support equality for women, many Americans still hold at least some sexist attitudes. That includes “benevolent” sexist attitudes — the kind that put women on a pedestal (as long as they conform to expected gender norms, that is) and obscure the fact that women are just human beings like everyone else.

And, as other research has indicated, hostile attitudes toward women were most common among Trump voters — both men and women.

But overt hostility to women also has a steep political cost. It galvanizes people to take action. That’s why the Women’s March on Washington became a worldwide phenomenon, and why it was a much bigger deal in DC than the inauguration itself.

Watch: Meet the Women’s March on Washington co-chair

Sign up for the newsletter Today, Explained

Understand the world with a daily explainer plus the most compelling stories of the day.