News & Analysis

AUDIO: The “Enthusiasm Gap” Isn’t Real, But The Backlash Against Hillary Supporters Is

feature image via Gage Skidmore

Millions of voters have come forward to stand with Hillary Clinton, and millions more are waiting for their chance in the Democratic primary. She’s garnered more votes than any candidate in the 2016 election – Democrat or Republican.

And yet, Bernie Sanders supporters are portrayed in the media as more enthusiastic about their candidate than Hillary Clinton supporters. The “enthusiasm gap,” however, runs contrary to the path of the actual campaign. After all, Bernie supporters may show up to thousand-person rallies and post constantly on social media, but their candidate hasn’t won as many votes. (Not to mention that a study showed that Hillary supporters are actually more excited and enthusiastic about their candidate, media narratives be damned.)

The difference? The volume. Hillary supporters simply aren’t as loud and proud on social media, and even in their everyday lives. In some ways, they’re putting a new spin on the notion of a “silent majority.” And so,  I set out last month to find out: What holds Hillary supporters back?

Through a series of interviews with women who support Hillary Clinton – some of whom have spoken out in their social circles or online, and some of whom have not – were telling. Progressive women of all stripes – across ages, races, and other demographics – fear the pushback of being a vocal Hillary supporter. They fear harassment from the right and the left, ostracization from their friends and activist circles, and the manifestation of the straight-up sexism they’ve seen on the trail and in conversations about the campaign online.

What separates Bernie supporters from Hillary supporters – especially in younger demographics where conversations are happening primarily on social media – isn’t excitement. It’s backlash.

These are the stories of those supporters.

This previous audio segment was made possible due to production help from Lauren Spohrer and Phoebe Judge. Thank y’all!

Now, let’s dig a little deeper. Here’s spotlights from five of the interviews I conducted exploring these issues – with folks who represent a broad coalition of Hillary supporters. All of them are millenials.


“I’m watching it on my Facebook feed: All these mostly male students – they just go on long rants about Bernie, and I know that if I post this one thing about Hillary, we might not have talked in years, but they’re gonna seek me out and there’s gonna be a long paragraph in my comments that I don’t wanna deal with.”

Sam Sabin is a 22-year-old first-generation college student at UNC Chapel Hill. She sat down with me after voting in the North Carolina election about staying quiet throughout the primary process and the pressure she feels, as a millenial, to be in line with media narratives that her generation doesn’t like Hillary Clinton.

“I’m scared, but I just remember that she’s fighting for the rights of trans women – and trans women of color specifically – and let that go out in front of me and let me be vocal about my support.”

Mey Rude is a 29-year-old Latina trans woman living in Idaho. She talked to me right after she wrapped up a few days of volunteering at her local Hillary HQ, canvassing and making phone calls on behalf of the campaign. Mey’s recently begun being more public about her support for Clinton – but still fears the pushback.

“I feel like people would just immediately attack me for being a Hillary supporter, so I just generally don’t tell anyone.”

Lydia is a 22-year-old photographer from Washington, DC. She asked me not to use her last name in this piece or when posting her interview for fear of being “outed” as a Hillary supporter. She was raised conservative and taught to hate the Clintons – but now she’s voting for Hillary and facing the same kind of Hillary sentiment from the left.

“I would go talk to people, and meet with people, and there were a lot of – even older women, mostly – who kept it a secret from their husbands. Because, you know, whatever the dynamics were, they didn’t want their husbands to know they like Hillary.”

Autumn is a 26-year-old grad student and a progressive woman of color from the south. She is a former Fellow for the Hillary Clinton campaign who talked to me about some of the personal attacks she’s faced for being outspoken in this primary cycle.

“I find it interesting that there’s only one candidate in a pool of two candidates – who are surprisingly alike, at the core – that only one of them is being questioned as to whether or not they’re deceitful, manipulative, basically evil. And I think the fact that this is all happening around a woman candidate is very telling.”

Carmen is a 25-year-old queer Latina with working-class roots. After a few months of relative silence, she decided to start posting feminist perspectives on the primary and pro-Hillary articles on her social media accounts because she was frustrated with their absence in conversations happening online, and is still going strong despite facing harassment and personal attacks from people who follow her.

Alice Wilder

Alice Wilder is from North Carolina by way of Louisiana and New York. You can follow her at @Alice_Wilder.