There's a sense in which the steady stream of women coming forward over the past week to accuse Donald Trump of inappropriate sexual conduct is helpful to Trump: It gives the GOP presidential nominee an excuse. It allows him — as it did Sunday morning — to pretend that the reason he is doing poorly with women is that these accusers have now stepped forward, a pattern that Trump blames on media bias. (Rather than on the real reason they stepped forward: the release of that 2005 "Access Hollywood" tape in which he boasts about sexual assaults and his subsequent denial in the second debate that he'd actually assaulted anyone.)
Again, Trump has an external excuse for his own missteps and failings: It's the media's fault.
Polls close, but can you believe I lost large numbers of women voters based on made up events THAT NEVER HAPPENED. Media rigging election!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 16, 2016
Fox News polling released this week showed Trump losing support with women after the controversies of the past few weeks. The Washington Post-ABC poll released this weekend provides a bit more context.
It is true that female registered voters broadly think that Trump did make unwanted sexual advances. Seventy percent of women think he did so, including half of Republican women.
But it's critical to note that many of the interviews included in this poll were conducted before the first New York Times reporting on specific assault allegations. Two-thirds of respondents before those revelations said that, yes, they thought Trump had made unwanted advances — even before women stepped forward to say that Trump had made such advances on them.
The 2005 hot-mic tape is a separate issue, released well before this polling. Forty percent of women said the tape made them less likely to support Trump, including 45 percent of independents and 16 percent of Republicans.
That's important for two reasons.
First, if his support actually did erode thanks to the tape, that's not an event that "never happened," as Trump's tweet puts it. It happened! He copped to it! It's clearly his own fault.
It's also important because eroding support from Republican and independent women is very dangerous for Trump, who needs to expand his core base of support outward, not see it winnow. He trails Hillary Clinton by four points in a four-way contest among likely voters in our new poll; he needs to make that gap smaller, not bigger.
It's probably safe to assume, though, that some of the erosion by party is a function of people who already didn't like him. Trump gets the support in our new poll of 81 percent of Republican women who are registered to vote — meaning that the 16 percent of Republicans who are less likely to support him may not have been supporting him in the first place. Since only a third of independent women support him, the 45 percent who are now less likely to back him may already have planned on voting against him.
Remember: Women — and voters overall — thought Trump was biased against women and minorities well before the hot-mic tape became public. In early September, we asked registered voters whether they thought he held biased views against those groups, and half of women said he was strongly biased against them. More than a quarter of Republican women said it was the case.
This includes both women and minorities, but given that women were more likely to view him as biased than men, it suggests that the gender issue plays an important role.
As always, it's not clear whether Trump believes the argument he is making or whether he's just making it for effect. Trump lost women a long time ago; the question has consistently been how bad that damage will be on Election Day. What he's trying to do here is make the new accusations seem as if they're not something worth considering, in an attempt to lure women back. Most women, though, see Trump's behavior broadly — including those accusations, presumably — as a legitimate, worrisome aspect of his candidacy.
More than a third of Republican women see it as important to some extent.
In nearly every poll The Post and ABC News have conducted, Trump has done better with Republican men than with Republican women. In every poll, he has done substantially better with independent men than independent women. The reason that Trump is struggling with women is not that the media is rigged and that these new accusations are undercutting his candidacy. It's that women have consistently been skeptical of him and viewed him as biased, and that the hot-mic tape, using his own words, did nothing to change that perception.
In other words, the blame for Trump's problems with women lies with Donald Trump.