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Trump and women: The big disconnect in American politics

Since launching his presidential campaign in 2015, Donald Trump has made numerous demeaning comments about women. (Video: Bastien Inzaurralde/The Washington Post, Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

The disconnect between President Trump and female voters is serious and not getting better. That’s a potentially big problem for Republicans in the November elections — but only if the women opposed to the president turn out to vote.

Trump’s election divided an already fractured country, deepening the red-blue chasm that has become the defining feature of today’s politics. But the revulsion among many women toward the president adds another layer to the politics of discontent.

Trump is doing nothing to mitigate the problem. Just the opposite. A man accused by multiple women of sexual misbehavior, he seems to take special delight in denigrating women, especially House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and his 2016 rival, Hillary Clinton. In one comment at a rally in Montana last Thursday, he mocked Warren and the #MeToo movement, and he also went after Waters.

Overseas, his relationship with German Chancellor Angela Merkel is particularly strained, and he seems to have only a tenuous bond with British Prime Minister Theresa May.

Until recently, he enjoyed far better relations with French President Emmanuel Macron and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, but his trade policies have caused strains with those male leaders, too. Those relationships will get new tests at the upcoming NATO summit and as trade wars heat up. Meanwhile, he acts chummy toward Russia’s Vladi­mir Putin and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.

The differences in voting preferences of women and men are not new in American politics. The Center for American Women in Politics (CAWP) at Rutgers University notes that there’s been a gender gap in every presidential election since 1980. In 2016, the gap was 11 points, with 52 percent of men and 41 percent of women supporting Trump. That equals the largest such gap dating back to 1980, though there have been three other instances (1996, 2000 and 2012) when it was 10 or 11 points.

But if the gender gap wasn’t significantly larger in 2016, the reaction to Trump’s election among women appears to be different. He has turned women who voted but had little other political involvement into activists and has turned some activists and non-activists into candidates for office at all levels — federal, state and local. Record numbers of women are running for office this year, and women have organized and led anti-Trump marches in cities across the country since his election.

The latest Washington Post-Schar School poll, released Friday, highlights the differences in the way women and men see Trump. Overall, the president’s approval rating among men is 54 percent positive and 45 percent negative. Among women, it’s 32 percent positive and 65 percent negative.

Administrations asks for more time to reunite separated families

Exploring those approval ratings based on party identification shows this: Among self-identified Republicans, Trump’s approval is 91 percent among men and 82 percent among women. But the gap in intensity of support is what is particularly telling. While 68 percent of male Republicans say they strongly approve of the way Trump is handling his job, just 31 percent of female Republicans say the same — a whopping 37-point difference.

There is a double-digit difference between all men and women in their evaluation of Trump’s handling of immigration, and likewise among Republican men and women. On trade, Republican men and women are in general agreement in giving positive marks, but they are widely separated in whether they feel strongly about that support.

On his handling of the economy, the gap is even larger. Across the entire population, more than 6 in 10 men give him positive marks for the economy, but fewer than 4 in 10 women say the same. Among Republicans, there is a 27-point difference between men and women in the level of strong approval expressed for the way the president is dealing with the economy.

Distrust of the president is greater among women. Women are more likely to say the president is damaging important American values rather than protecting them: 54 percent to 29 percent. By 76 percent to 24 percent, they say the president tells the truth only some of the time or hardly ever rather than all or most of the time. Among men, it’s 59 percent to 41 percent.

Men narrowly trust Trump over Democrats in Congress to handle immigration. But women feel the opposite, by 41 percent to 19 percent. By almost 2 to 1, men trust Trump more than Democrats to deal with border security; among women, it’s an almost even split. Men are split evenly on the construction of a border wall; women oppose it by a 26-point margin. Among Republicans, about 8 in 10 men and 7 in 10 women favor building the wall.

Americans oppose key elements of Trump immigration policy

The administration’s policy of separating immigrant children from their parents, which Trump reversed in the face of a public backlash, is opposed by a majority of Americans. Republicans, however, support it. Here again, though, there’s a gap between men and women, with nearly 7 in 10 men but only about half of women offering support. And among the GOP women, slightly more than a third say they strongly oppose the separation policy.

In elections, women vote at higher percentages and in higher numbers and have done so dating back decades. In 2016, 63.3 percent of eligible women and 59.3 percent of eligible men voted, according to Census Bureau figures cited in a CAWP report. That translated to 10 million more women casting ballots. The pattern in midterm elections is similar, though the differences have been smaller — with about 5 million to 6 million more women than men casting ballots in the most recent midterm elections.

The Post-Schar School poll findings included one result that raises a question about participation among women in November. Asked about the importance of voting this fall, 77 percent of women and 74 percent of men say it is either “extremely important” or “very important” to do so. Looking at who is most motivated today, 54 percent of men say voting this year is extremely important, while among women, it is just 39 percent.

Does that spell problems for Democrats? Perhaps not. When I asked Scott Clement, The Post’s polling director, how he interpreted the apparent differences in voter intensity between men and women in the new survey, he said in an email that it suggests that the more tepid approval for Trump among Republican women could leave some of them on the sidelines in November.

He noted that there is a strong connection between strong approval of the president and enthusiasm to vote, with 56 percent of Republican-leaners who strongly approve of Trump’s job performance saying it’s extremely important to vote, but just 23 percent of those who somewhat approve of his performance saying the same. A similar gap exists among Democrats, but they are more unified in their intense disapproval of Trump.

Every time the president disparages a female politician, he potentially makes the fall campaign that much more difficult for the candidates in his party.