Trump and the Gender Gap

by Ramesh Ponnuru

For several decades, women have been more likely to vote for Democrats than men. A voter’s sex is not particularly predictive of a vote: Race, religion, and marital status matter more. But a gender gap exists across many subgroups. A majority of married women voted for Mitt Romney in 2012, but an even larger majority of married men did.

Romney had an eight-point gender gap overall, winning 52 percent of men and 44 percent of women. (People measure the gap in different ways; I’m using the difference between the percentage of men and the percentage of women who vote for the Republican candidate.) That’s roughly the same as the 7-point gender gap in 2004, when George W. Bush won with 55 percent of men and 48 percent of women. In general, I’ve argued, Republicans don’t win elections by shrinking the gender gap but by raising their support among both sexes.

I am skeptical, then, when a Republican candidate is said to be bad general election news because he is “weak among women”: Usually that just means the candidate is weak, period, with the standard-for-Republicans added weakness among women. Or when a Republican candidate is advised to do X, Y, or Z to build support among women: Usually if it’s worth doing, it builds his support among both sexes. Or when a Republican primary candidate is touted because, as a woman, she will shrink the gender gap: It usually doesn’t happen. (Joni Ernst ran a strong campaign for Senate from Iowa in 2014, and won–with a nine-point gender gap, in the same ballpark as the Bush/Romney gaps.)

Now let’s look at Donald Trump’s polling. Gallup got a lot of attention for reporting that “Seven in 10 Women Have Unfavorable Opinion of Trump,” but it also found that 58 percent of men have an unfavorable opinion of him. That 12-point gap is on the high side of the normal range. Several of the 2014 Senate races saw larger gender gaps than that. (Complicating comparisons, the gap appears to be growing.) Gallup’s numbers don’t suggest that he has a particular problem with women as much as that he is a weak candidate.

Several of the recent polls testing Trump against Hillary Clinton (which my AEI colleague Heather Sims compiled for me) also show gender gaps in this normal range. The Suffolk-USA Today poll has a gender gap of 11. The Economist/YouGov poll has one of 14. He’s losing in both of the polls, but it’s the usual pattern for a losing Republican candidate: He’s just not popular enough across the board.

A few of the polls, though, suggest that Trump really does have a bigger gender gap than most Republicans. Fox News showed him with an 18-point gender gap, and the CBS/New York Times poll had a 19-point one. Trump’s gaps were somewhat larger than those of Senator Ted Cruz and Gov. John Kasich in these polls. Trump loses in these polls, too.

All in all, recent polls strongly suggest that Trump is a weak general-election candidate. They may also suggest that something about him–something that sets him apart from Republicans in general–repels women more than men.


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