Republicans still haven’t learned. In the autopsy of the 2012 presidential campaign, the Republican National Committee concluded that the party needed to “improve its efforts to include female voters” and “represent some of the unique concerns that female voters may have.”
But the top two Republican presidential candidates — Donald Trump and Ted Cruz — have the lowest favorability ratings in the field among women. If nominated, Cruz would probably perform the same as Romney, whereas Trump would probably lose the women’s vote by the biggest margin in 50 years.
Trump recently tweeted, “Nobody has more respect for women than Donald Trump!” This is hard to believe. More than 3 million people have seen the anti-Trump ad in which women repeat real quotes about women from Donald Trump, such as “bimbo” and “fat pig.” Trump described Megyn Kelly as having “blood coming out of her wherever” and mocked Carly Fiorina’s appearance by saying, “Look at that face.” He tweeted a picture of Melania Trump next to Heidi Cruz, as if potential first ladies are contestants in a Miss Universe pageant. And when asked whether women should be punished in the event that abortion became illegal, he suggested that they should be.
Women aren’t amused. Seven out of ten women (67 percent) have an unfavorable view of Trump, and only 26 percent view him favorably, according to a national Quinnipiac survey from late March. Other polls have his unfavorability ratings among women even higher, at 74 percent.
Cruz has capitalized on Trump’s missteps by not making similar misogynist gaffes (admittedly, this is a low bar). He also recently hosted an event — “The Celebration of Strong Women” — in Madison, Wis., featuring his wife, his mother, and none other than former competitor Carly Fiorina. “All issues are women’s issues,” said Cruz, in one of his most humanizing events of the campaign.
This is a very encouraging development, but Cruz too has a steep hill to climb with women voters. Three in ten women surveyed had a favorable view of Cruz (29 percent) and nearly half had an unfavorable view of him (46 percent), according to the same Quinnipiac survey from late March.
Not that the GOP’s leading candidates do particularly well with male voters. The majority of men (54 percent) view Trump negatively, and nearly half (48 percent) view Cruz negatively. But the favorability gap is more pronounced with women, especially for Trump.
Indeed, Trump’s gender gap (measured by the net favorable rating among women minus the net favorable rating among men) is larger than any remaining candidate’s, according to Gallup.
This bodes poorly for the general election. In a hypothetical general-election matchup, according to a Quinnipiac poll in March, among women voters, Trump would trail Clinton by 16 points and Sanders by 27 points; Cruz would trail Clinton by 9 points and Sanders by 18 points.
Trump probably would take the GOP to a devastatingly new low, not reached since Barry Goldwater lost the women’s vote by 24 points in 1964.
For perspective, Cruz is within the margin of error to Mitt Romney, who lost to Obama by 12 points among women voters, according to Gallup. But Trump probably would take the GOP to a devastatingly new low, not reached since Barry Goldwater lost the women’s vote by 24 points in 1964.
Republicans in general are struggling with women voters. For the last three decades, women have tended to vote Democrat. However, the party could do a lot better than its two current front-runners.
In the same hypothetical matchup, John Kasich would trail Clinton by only 1 point with women voters and Sanders by 5 points. Marco Rubio, while he was still in the race, trailed Clinton by only 4 points with women voters, according to Quinnipiac. And it wasn’t so long ago that George H. W. Bush and Ronald Reagan won the female vote.
In other words, it’s not the party. It’s the candidates. If Republicans want to win a general election, it’s worth considering what women voters want. They need look no further than Reince Preibus’s 2012 report.
First, candidates need to appeal to women voters. This means talking about issues women care about. According to the Pew Research Center, women are more likely than men to favor government intervention for the poor (by nine points), children (ten points), and the elderly (by eleven points). Women are also more likely than men to prioritize education and environmental reforms. This does not mean that Republicans need to convert to a big-government agenda. But they should do a better job connecting the dots to show how their policies help the most vulnerable.
It also means being less negative. Hardline, divisive tones and name-calling are a turnoff for women. In a study at American University, 28 percent of women said they don’t run for office for fear of a negative campaign, compared with 16 percent of men. The Republican presidential candidates that have historically won among women have tended to be optimistic and positive.
And it means talking about the traditional conservative agenda in a more personal way. Tax reform, regulatory reform, and fixing the debt would go a long way toward improving the economy and thus helping women have more opportunity, but candidates should not explain this in cryptic supply-side rhetoric. According to a recent poll in Ohio, when Republican women were asked about the message: “We should support job creators and not punish them with higher taxes and regulation,” 46 percent strongly agreed. When the message was phrased in a more personal way: “We should make it simpler and easier for Americans to start up small businesses or work for themselves from home,” 64 percent strongly agreed.
Second, Republicans need to address the unique concerns of women. Regardless of what feminists say, women and men are not the same. Women are more likely than men to leave their jobs when faced with high child-care costs (which have increased by 70 percent since 1985). Women are more likely than men to be single parents (25 percent of American families are headed up by single mothers). Women are more likely than men to hold low-wage jobs and live in poverty (women are 64 percent of minimum-wage workers). And women are the only ones giving birth (the U.S. does not have a national, paid maternity-leave program for women who do not receive benefits from their employer).
#related#It’s essential that conservatives address head-on the specific economic issues women face. Marco Rubio led the 2016 Republican field by being the first Republican presidential candidate in history to offer a plan for paid maternity leave. He was channeling former Republican presidents Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush, all of whom signed into law and expanded child-care tax credits, child tax credits, and wage subsidies for low-wage workers, who tend to be women. The remaining Republican candidates should follow their lead and put forward pro-growth reforms and targeted policies to help women.
Often, Republicans’ challenges with women voters are reduced to abortion. But the public’s stance on abortion does not explain the favorability differences between the Republican candidates in the same cycle. Moreover, Trump is probably pro-choice, despite his recent pro-life statements — after all, he has repeated defended Planned Parenthood. And despite this, of all the candidates, he is viewed the least favorably among women.
A larger share of the women’s vote is probably within reach for Ted Cruz if he can adjust his rhetoric and policies. But it’s increasingly appearing impossible for Trump.