Ivanka Trump’s surprising speech on the last night of the Republican National Convention placed equal pay and child care at the forefront of the Trump campaign’s efforts to improve the lives of American women. She stressed the needs of married mothers, who experience a much larger wage gap than single women and married women who don’t have children, and linked this wage gap directly to the financial burdens associated with child care, acknowledging that the two problems often go hand in hand. She committed her father to changing labor laws to redress the wage gap and to making quality child care affordable and accessible for all Americans.
For many watching the convention coverage, Trump’s comments seemed to come out of left field, sounding more like a stump speech for Clinton than for her own father and sparking incredulity among pundits on both sides of the aisle. But the strategy behind them seems clear. An ABC News/Washington Post poll conducted just days before the convention showed only 34 percent of women support Donald Trump’s candidacy — a record low among Republican candidates dating back to World War II.
Meanwhile, the “Women Vote Trump” event at the RNC drew an abysmally small audience and a contingent of women calling themselves Republican Women for Hillary is undoubtedly an ongoing source of embarrassment for the campaign. All of this suggests there’s still much work to be done to court women voters.
So will Ivanka Trump’s promises help win over women voters, and GOP women in particular? We are skeptical.
To be sure, our research shows that women are more favorable toward government-subsidized child care than are men. In the 2012 Cooperative Congressional Election Study, we asked a nationally representative sample of American adults about child care subsidies designed to benefit different groups of women — including poor and middle class working mothers. Women were significantly more supportive of subsidized child care for both groups, but particularly for middle class women: 75 percent of women and 57 percent of men support subsidies for the poor, and 57 percent and 40 percent respectively favor subsidies for the middle class. Women were also more supportive of government-mandated pay equity for women (66 percent of women compared to 55 percent of men).
Gender gaps in support for these policies exist even within the Republican Party. In a recent article, we analyzed this survey and found that 44 percent of GOP women, compared to just 26 percent of GOP men, supported pay equity. And in another paper, using the 2012 American National Election Study, we found that Republican women are more likely than Republican men to oppose cuts in federal spending on childcare.
These gender differences in policy attitudes among Republicans are linked to beliefs about gender discrimination. Republican women are much more likely than Republican men to attribute gender differences in economic circumstances to discrimination. For instance, Republican women are more likely to say that discrimination is a serious problem facing American women (49 percent of GOP women vs. 34 percent of GOP men). Although conservative women are still less supportive of these policies than liberal women, who also see gender discrimination as a more pervasive problem, there is a gender gap within the GOP itself on this and many other “women’s issues.”
Of course, some Republican women do hold conservative positions on women’s issues, but based on our research, it is possible that promises to improve the lot of working mothers is going to appeal strongly to the average Republican woman. In addition, Jill Greenlee’s research shows that Republicans have successfully leaned on motherhood in the past to mobilize women, and it seems that making equal pay about motherhood might be a winning combination for attracting GOP women in 2016.
Greenlee’s work provides a cautionary note, however. She attributes some of the Republican Party’s success with invoking motherhood with its focus on traditional motherhood, which was not Ivanka Trump’s focus. Democrats have engaged thornier issues facing working mothers — including those raised by her — but, Greenlee argues, with more limited success.
A second problem is this: It seems unlikely that issues like gender pay equity will become a regular feature of Donald Trump’s campaign, given their absence from the Republican Party’s platform and Trump’s failure to acknowledge the substance of his daughter’s comments in his own speech.
Her remarks seem to better reflect her personal platform (Women Who Work) than that of her father or the Republican Party. In fact, her speech aligns her more with President Obama — who recently identified affordable child care as a top priority for propping up the nation’s stalling middle class—than with her father.
In short, child care is one of the biggest expenditures facing American families. As a result Ivanka Trump’s surprisingly liberal message and policy priorities might very well draw some reluctant Republican women into the fold. But ultimately it is unlikely that her efforts alone will be sufficient to overcome her father’s challenges with women voters.
Erin C. Cassese is an associate professor at West Virginia University. Tiffany D. Barnes is an assistant professor at the University of Kentucky.