Exit polls show more women breaking with Republicans

The GOP appears to be alienating women who two years ago came out to vote President TrumpDonald John TrumpBusiness, ballots and battling opioids: Why the Universal Postal Union benefits the US Sanders supporters cry foul over Working Families endorsement of Warren California poll: Biden, Sanders lead Democratic field; Harris takes fifth MORE into office. According to exit poll data compiled by Edison Research, 59 percent of women voted for Democrats in the Nov. 6 elections, up from 54 percent who cast ballots for the party in 2016.

In 2016, Trump's then-opponent Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonSanders supporters cry foul over Working Families endorsement of Warren The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump heads to California Hillary Clinton: Voter suppression has led to 'crisis in democracy' in the US MORE made history as the first major-party presidential nominee who was a woman. But ultimately, that fact did not help her win a majority of the white female vote. According to Edison, 52 percent of white women voted for Trump while only 43 percent backed Clinton in 2016. Two years later, white women split between the two parties with 49 percent voting for Republicans and 49 percent voting for Democrats.

"Part of the reason is definitely the president's toxic rhetoric is very anti-women and women are not ignoring that," Pia Nargundkar, a pollster with the Democratic firm ALG Research, said Wednesday on "What America's Thinking."

Polls suggest there's a chance that Clinton's absence from the 2018 races helped Democrats, given her high negative poll ratings. In 2016 surveys of over 40,000 voters, the polling firm Morning Consult found that 56 percent of Americans had negative views of Clinton, just two points less than the 58 percent negative rating Trump received.

"There were a whole host of factors that were involved with the 2016 election, starting with two historically unpopular candidates," Nargundkar said, adding that many people in her focus groups seemed to believe that Trump would refrain from controversial behavior once he was elected.

"In 2018, he's president, and he hasn't changed," she said. "And so when they're voting in 2018, I think his rhetoric is opening up these suburban women to look at Democrats for the first time."

Concern about protecting some of the more popular aspects of the Affordable Care Act also may have increased Democratic support. An overwhelming majority of Americans in surveys have supported the law's requirement that health insurers sell coverage to all would-be customers and not charge them more based on their pre-existing conditions.

In Edison's 2016 data, health care was not among the four issues voters cited as most important to them. In 2018, 41 percent of respondents said health care was the top issue facing the country. Democrats earned 75 percent of the votes of this group.

Republicans, including Trump, came under sustained public pressure after the congressional GOP repeatedly voted for bills in 2017 that would have allowed insurers to refuse service to customers or to charge them more for it based on health status.

Multiple Republican candidates, and Trump, emphasized their support for protecting pre-existing conditions in the weeks leading up to the midterm election, while backing policies which allowed insurers to exclude expensive treatments from coverage offered to unhealthy customers.

--Matthew Sheffield