The evidence continues to pile up. When it comes to Donald Trump, there’s a big difference between men and women.
Yes, many women voted for Trump in 2016 and continue to support him as president almost without reservation. They are women like Janelle Lutgen, whom I met during intermittent travels through counties in the Midwest over the past year-plus. She’s a Republican official in Iowa and a retired mail carrier.
Like many Trump supporters, she thinks the president could tweet less often but generally finds his combative style effective. “Being completely civil hasn’t been working, so let’s try something [else],” she says. In a telephone conversation earlier this year, I asked her what, if anything, she would change about the president. “I don’t know,” she said. “I’m happy letting Donald be Donald.”
But for all the Janelle Lutgens, there are nearly twice as many women who have a different and dimmer view of Trump. Every bit of survey research available, and every other way to measure public attitudes, continues to show a big gender gap when it comes to the president.
In a Washington Post-ABC News poll taken in April, one in three women said they approved of the job Trump is doing, while nearly two in three said they disapproved — and half of all women said they strongly disapproved. Meanwhile, men in that same survey split about evenly on Trump’s performance.
Reaction to the article about voters in the Midwest that was published recently in The Washington Post showed a similar split along gender lines. Women who responded to the story more often than not were critical of the president. Meanwhile, the fiercest defense of the president came from men, who said the article understated the intensity of support for Trump among those who voted for him in 2016.
One man, who said he was driving cross-country, put it this way: “Us Trump supporters are more united in our stand behind our president. I’m not sure where you did your research, but you need to look beyond the Democratic minority to find how the nation feels.” Another man wrote to say, “I read, I looked, but could not find one positive thing about the man who is putting country and common sense over party.”
Stan Greenberg, a Democratic pollster, conducted focus groups in Michigan to gauge support for the president. This is territory he first explored in the 1980s in an effort to understand why working-class voters had defected from the Democratic Party, and he has returned from time to time to study the evolution of attitudes toward the parties.
Under the auspices of Democracy Corps, he assembled different groups: voters in Macomb County who had backed Barack Obama in 2012 and Trump in 2016; African American women in Detroit; and college-educated women in suburban Oakland County. “My data shows huge differences in men and women,” he said during a phone conversation.
Greenberg’s report provided a telling comment about how the Trump presidency has affected attitudes, particularly among college-educated women.
“The anti-Trump voters are consolidated and motivated to resist the Trump presidency,” his report states. “They are seeking out tools and information to win arguments and maximize their engagement and are increasingly intent to vote. The college-graduate women seemed as much a base, anti-Trump group as the African Americans.”
The report also described the effect of these changes on men who supported and continue to support Trump. Unlike women, the attitudes of the men have hardly changed over time. They remain all in with the president.
But Greenberg also said there was a poignancy about some of the conversations among men, who described family splits over the 2016 vote. One working-class man said he had “lost contact” with a daughter because of the election.
“A healthy diet of Fox News is feeding the white working-class men fending off the challenges of Trump’s opponents, including those within their own families,” his report says. “They have taken a lot of heat from the millennials and children in their own families, but feel vindicated that a businessman like Trump has produced a strong macro-economy and kept his promises on immigration. They continue to appreciate how he speaks his mind, unlike a typical politician.”
Last week’s primary results again underscored the power of female voters and the appeal of female candidates in Democratic contests. In Pennsylvania, a state whose congressional delegation has been entirely male, three women — Chrissy Houlahan, Mary Gay Scanlon and Madeleine Dean — won Democratic nominations in districts where Democrats have a decided edge.
Another woman, Susan Wild, was nominated in a Pennsylvania district likely to be competitive as a result of the retirement of Rep. Charlie Dent (R) this fall. In Nebraska, Kara Eastman upset favored Brad Ashford in an Omaha-area district held by Rep. Don Bacon (R) that is considered competitive.
Perhaps the power of the women’s vote will propel Democrats to enough victories this fall to retake control of the House. But for Democrats, a related question is what, if anything, their candidates can do to win greater — not majority — support among working-class white men, both this fall and, more important, in the 2020 presidential race.
Peeling some of those voters away from Trump would be crucial in denying him a second term. The jury is out on that question. A procession of potential 2020 Democratic presidential candidates appeared Tuesday at a conference held by the Center for American Progress. There were many messages among the prospective candidates, but little that suggested that those working-class voters are yet a particular focus.
For now, the male-female split remains a defining feature of the Trump presidency.