Trump seeks to overcome eroding support among women
President Trump is facing a growing deficit with female voters, putting his reelection chances in jeopardy ahead of November.
Trump narrowly won the votes of white women in 2016, garnering 52 percent of the demographic and 61 percent of white women without college degrees, according to exit polling. However, that support appears to be eroding as he prepares to accept the Republican nomination for president at the party’s convention.
“The gaping chest wound in Donald Trump’s chances to win reelection is the gender gap,” GOP strategist Scott Jennings said on CNN on Wednesday. ““There’s no way to spin your way out of it. It exists.”
An NPR-PBS Newshour-Marist poll released last month showed Trump’s disapproval rating among suburban women at 66 percent, with 58 percent saying they “strongly” disapproved of the job he’s doing.
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden also leads Trump by a wide margin among female voters in general ahead of November. A Washington Post average of polls released earlier this month showed the Democratic nominee leading with women by 23 percentage points.
The negative poll numbers among white, suburban women, once a reliable asset to Republicans, could hurt Trump in November.
Forty-nine percent of white women voted for Democrats in 2018 House races, according to exit polling, compared with 43 percent in 2016.
However, the president’s campaign and his supporters say his situation with female voters is not as dire as some polls show.
“Joe Biden is busy lumping all women into one voting bloc, whereas President Trump is delivering on an array of issues that really matter to women — and they’re noticing,” Trump campaign deputy national press secretary Courtney Parella said in a statement to The Hill.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany argued Trump was strong on issues important to women in an interview on Fox News on Thursday.
“What this president has done for women — generational lows in female unemployment, paid family leave for federal workers, block grants for low-income mothers and fathers to have child care. This president has fought for women,” McEnany said.
Trump himself touted his support among the group last week after Biden announced his selection of Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) as his running mate.
“The ‘suburban housewife’ will be voting for me. They want safety & are thrilled that I ended the long-running program where low-income housing would invade their neighborhood,” Trump said in a tweet, referring to his decision to scrap the Obama-era Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule.
The campaign also says Trump has improved in polling among women, pointing to a number of surveys including a Rasmussen poll released Wednesday showing his support among women ticked up since last week to 42 percent.
The president’s backers say in order to grow his support among women, he must stay laser-focused on the economy, crime and the anti-abortion movement, and home in on those issues at the Republican National Convention.
Trump’s supporters have long touted his strength on the economy, which saw growth prior to the downturn amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“Economy is front and center for most [women],” said Elaine Parker, the chief communications officer for the fiscally conservative advocacy group Job Creators Network.
Parker also pointed to Trump’s recovery efforts, specifically the CARES Act, which set aside $350 billion to small businesses under the Paycheck Protection Act.
“Women have such an incredible impact on this economy. Thirteen million women own small businesses, and in 2019, they were responsible for starting an average of 1,800 new businesses per day,” she said. “That didn’t happen because we had high taxes and excessive regulations, it happened because of policies like tax cuts and the Jobs Act.”
Conservatives have also pointed to Trump’s law and order message amid nationwide protests on racial injustice, a strategy they say will help win back women in the suburbs.
“The other thing too with suburban women that’s probably getting them a little nervous and uncertain in this election is what’s happening with the antifa mobs, the Black Lives Matter radicals, burning and tearing up buildings,” said Jennifer Carroll, a spokeswoman for Maggie’s List, which works to elect conservative women to public office. “One thing that women [want] across the board, whether they’re suburban or not, they want safety and security.”
However, polling indicates that a majority of Americans believe Trump’s strategy of sending federal law enforcement to cities to confront protests only makes the situation worse.
An ABC News-Ipsos survey released late last month found that 52 percent of respondents, including 55 percent of white people, said they did not believe Trump’s tactic worked.
The president’s supporters have urged Trump, who has dubbed himself “the most pro-life president” ever, to emphasize the abortion issue at the convention and during the election in an effort to galvanize women opposed to the practice.
“What we have been encouraging the president and [pro-life] Republicans broadly to do is to go on offense, to talk about the clarity that exists between the two sides on the life issue,” said Mallory Quigley, the vice president of communications at Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion group.
Conservatives point to polls that show skepticism on the issue, including a Marist poll conducted in January showing 65 percent of respondents saying they are more likely to vote for candidates who would limit abortion at the first three months of pregnancy.
Next week’s convention will likely spend time on the issue, featuring anti-abortion advocate Abby Johnson as a speaker.
Ultimately, though, Trump’s response to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic will likely be the deciding factor among many female voters — and voters in general.
A CNN poll conducted last week found that 38 percent of respondents, including 46 percent of men and 30 percent of women approved of the president’s handling of the pandemic.
“First and foremost, what he can do is wear a mask and wear one consistently,” said veteran GOP strategist Doug Heye. “This crisis has really raised very significant questions of competence, and once those questions are raised or in this case, potentially answered, it’s hard to ever get that back.”
Other Republicans say that a focus on Trump’s No. 1 strength, the economy, will be crucial for the president.
“Are there people out there that may not necessarily like his approach, or how he says things and how he does things? That may be true, but they do like his handling of the economy,” said Parker of the Job Creators Network.
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