Donald Trump Has a Female Firewall, Too
Heading into the home stretch of the Republican presidential primaries, Donald Trump remains the front-runner, although his frequent, disparaging statements about women often make it seem as though he’s eager to lose that designation. Trump has, of course, criticized Carly Fiorina’s appearance (“Look at that face!”), implied that Fox News’ Megyn Kelly was tough on him because she was menstruating, and insisted that women should face “punishment” for having abortions if the procedure is outlawed (an assertion he later walked back).
It’s no shock, then, that Trump was found cratering in a poll conducted for Bloomberg Politics this month of married women likely to vote in the general election: Nearly 60 percent found the language he used to talk about women offensive and embarrassing, while 70 percent held an unfavorable opinion of him. Single women regard him like the plague, survey after survey shows. And a recent Democracy Corps poll found that even women in the stalwart pro-Trump “blue-collar” demographic are peeling away.
But there is one group of women who, despite all this, are stubbornly sticking by him: married, white Republican-primary voters. The Bloomberg Politics poll, conducted online by Purple Strategies, found they not only held a favorable view of Trump and preferred him to Ted Cruz, but 41 percent said they’re more likely to vote in November if Trump is the Republican nominee (only 5 percent said they’re less likely).
“This is the resilient core of his female support,” said Purple Strategies pollster Doug Usher. With Trump’s ability to win the 1,237 delegates necessary to secure the GOP nomination in doubt, it’s critical that he maintain it. The image of Trump’s supporters as protester-punching angry white men may not without merit, but his shot at the White House rests just as heavily on those who more closely resemble June Cleaver.
The so-called marriage gap in political views between single and married women isn’t new: the former traditionally lean Democrat, the latter Republican. But Trump has exploded this gap into something more like a canyon. The Democracy Corps poll, conducted for Women’s Voices Women Vote Action Fund in March, found that Hillary Clinton trounces Trump 73 percent to 21 percent among single women, yet, amazingly, loses to him 48 percent to 45 percent among married women—a gap of 55 percentage points.
What explains this disparity? It’s mainly a function of the starkly different political views held by single and married white women. While it may appear as though these women fall under a mysterious pro-Trump spell when they utter their wedding vows, the difference in outlook is a function of age and ethnicity. Married women tend to be older and whiter than their single counterparts—and older white people are Trump’s core demographic. Women of color, on the other hand, are heavily Democratic and statistically less likely to be married, especially African-American women.
Furthermore, married people say that marriage is important, an outlook that inclines them toward the GOP. “Republicans, whether you agree or disagree with them on policy, have rhetorically valued marriage as a bedrock issue,” said Usher, “so those with whom that would resonate are obviously more likely to be married rather than single.” If you’re married, you’re more likely to be a Republican (68 percent are married, according to Democracy Corps pollster Stanley Greenberg) than a Democrat (52 percent unmarried).
And while the thrice-married Trump isn’t exactly a walking billboard for the institution of marriage, traditionalists have few and dwindling options.
“Republicans are a married party in a country that’s majority unmarried,” Greenberg said. “They’re sticking with Trump because that’s the party that’s still for traditional marriage, and marriage is one of the symbols for the changes in the country that they consider most unacceptable.”
Trump’s early success in the primaries was built on an ability to attract growing numbers of men, whose support dwarfed that of pro-Trump women and vaulted him to a sizable delegate lead. But in recent contests, including his blowout loss in Wisconsin on April 5, pro-Trump men haven't materialized in the previous numbers. “The good news for Trump is that he eliminated his gender gap in Wisconsin,” says Usher. “The bad news is he did it by losing men.”
In order to eke out the nomination, he’ll have to convince women not to abandon him, and, ideally, even grow their support. Trump at last seems cognizant of this point. On April 13, he met with Kelly for lunch, signaling a possible rapprochement. But if past is prologue, and Trump doesn’t curb the misogyny, he may drive away the last group of women who still support him—and with it, the chance to represent the GOP in the fall.