Last fall, when presidential wannabe Donald Trump famously boasted on CNN that he would “be the best thing that ever happened to women,” some may have fallen for it. Millions of women, however, reacted with laughter, irritation, disgust, and no little nausea. For while the media generate a daily fog of Trumpisms, speculating upon the meaning and implications of the man’s every incoherent utterance, a great many women, schooled by experience, can see right through the petty tyrant and his nasty bag of tricks.
By March, the often hard-earned wisdom of such women was reflected in a raft of public-opinion polls in which an extraordinary number of female voters registered an “unfavorable” or “negative” impression of the Republican Party’s presumptive nominee. Reporting on Trump’s “rock-bottom ratings” with prospective women voters, Politico termed the unfavorable poll numbers—67 percent (Fox News), 67 percent (Quinnipiac University), 70 percent (NBC/Wall Street Journal), 73 percent (ABC/Washington Post)—“staggering.” In April, The Daily Wire labeled similar results in a Bloomberg poll of married women likely to vote in the general election “amazing.” Seventy percent of them stated that they would not vote for Trump.
His campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, seemed untroubled by such polls, claiming that “women don’t vote based on gender” but on “competency,” apparently convinced that it was only a matter of time before female voters awoke to the dazzling competency of his candidate.
Think again, Mr. Lewandowski. Since at least the 1970s, women have been voting on the basis of gender—not that of the presidential candidates (all men), but their own. Historically, women and children have been more likely than men to benefit from the sorts of social-welfare programs generally backed by Democrats, including Aid to Families with Dependent Children. Even after, in the 1990s, both parties connived to scale back or shut down such programs, a majority of women stayed with Democrats who advocated positions like equal pay for equal work, reproductive rights, improved early childhood education, affordable healthcare, universal childcare, and paid parental leave—programs of special interest to families of all ethnic groups and, with rare exceptions, opposed by Republicans.
A majority of women have remained quite consistent since the 1970s in the policies (and party) they support. (Among women, loyalty to the Republican Party seems to have fallen chiefly to white Christian evangelicals.) It’s men who have generally been the fickle flip-floppers, switching parties, often well behind the economic curve, to repeatedly vote for “change” unlike the change they voted for last time. The result is a gender gap that widens with each presidential election.
Still, the 2016 version of that gap is a doozy, wider than it’s ever been and growing. Add in another factor: Huge numbers of women with “negative” opinions of Donald Trump don’t simply dislike him but loathe him in visceral ways. In other words, something unusual is going on here beyond party or policy or even politics—something so obvious that most pundits, busy fielding Trump’s calls and reporting his bluster on a daily basis, haven’t stepped back and taken it in.