AP NEWS

Women who backed Donald Trump in 2016 will determine 2018 midterms: Brent Larkin

August 30, 2018

Women who backed Donald Trump in 2016 will determine 2018 midterms: Brent Larkin

CLEVELAND -- What women wanted in the 2016 election wasn’t what most everyone thought they wanted. Especially white women with a college degree.  

Now those same women get a do-over, a chance to correct a mistake that threatens their children’s future.

If they don’t make amends Nov. 6, the political party that no longer values the truth might inflict damage that will take generations to repair.   

In the run-up to this year’s election, there is hard evidence women who voted for Donald Trump in 2016 are abandoning him.

Three people familiar with recent polling in Ohio tell me the polls show that the gravest threat to GOP candidates this year is not just voter enthusiasm but a widening of the gender gap.  

A comprehensive survey released Aug. 9 by the Pew Research Center warns of an erosion in Trump’s support among female Trump voters who were originally enthusiastic about his candidacy.

Despite fixation on the love affair between Trump and white males without a college degree (I plead guilty), it was clear before Nov. 8, 2016 where that demographic was headed.    

The numbers remain breathtaking: Among white men, Trump drew 71 percent of the national vote, Hillary Clinton 23 percent, according to exit polls reported by The Washington Post.

But that year’s real November surprise, the one that tipped the election to Trump, came from women.  

In the run-up to the election, polls promised white suburban women, appalled by the prospect of electing a misogynist, would enable Hillary Clinton to crash through the glass ceiling.  

Common sense said the same thing – that precious few moms with college degrees would be willing to make president a man who bragged about physically abusing them.  

The polls and common sense were wrong.

A majority of women still supported Clinton -- by a margin of 54 percent to 41 percent, according to the exit polls. 

But white women without a college degree supported Trump by a margin of 61 percent to 34 percent, the exit polls showed.  

And white women with a college degree – whom most thought would abandon Trump in record numbers – favored Clinton by a shockingly small margin of 51 percent to 44 percent.  

Now those white women, especially the ones with a college degree, are reconsidering.  

The Pew research represents the most comprehensive examination of the 2016 campaign, the election itself, and what’s happened since. Pew compiled a representative sampling of 3,014 voters and has polled those same voters repeatedly since April 2016.  

Pew’s most recent results confirm that the overwhelming majority of those who voted for Trump remain strong supporters.

Even an unthinkable scenario – like a sitting Republican president being such a contemptible human being that he is essentially uninvited to the funerals of two beloved Republicans (Barbara Bush and John McCain) - would give no pause to white male Trump lovers.  

Pew found the most loyal of that bunch are white males born between 1928 and 1945. As those voters die off, as the country becomes less white and more educated, it’s difficult to imagine Trump’s version of the Republican Party having much staying power.  

But Pew found “a significant gap is now evident” between Trump’s female and male voters.  

Women, for generations the more thoughtful voting bloc, are no longer quite as enthusiastic about him.

“Things like kids at the border separated from their families and then lost by an incompetent administration; proof of Trump’s lies about his numerous infidelities - these things add up with women,” explained longtime Cleveland pollster Bob Dykes. “It’s no one thing. It’s many things.”  

And it explains why, in the race for governor of Ohio between Republican Mike DeWine and Democrat Rich Cordray, DeWine’s strategy is clearly aimed at winning women back.  

It explains why Republicans are likely to lose control of the U.S. House.  

It even explains why Cleveland-area Republican Rep. David Joyce has run television ads that are gently critical of Trump.  

Joyce’s district wanders through most of Cuyahoga County’s eastern suburbs and includes all or part of six other counties.

The demographics of Joyce’s district are similar - though a bit less Republican - than the Columbus-area district where Republican Troy Balderson barely prevailed over Democrat Danny O’Connor in August’s special election. 

A Monmouth University poll taken right before the Aug. 7 election – which correctly forecast Balderson’s winning margin – showed O’Connor with a 12 percent lead among women voters.  

Facing an aggressive election challenge from Geauga County Democrat Betsy Rader, Joyce’s ads also boast of his opposition to a plan that would have removed health care protections for people with pre-existing conditions.  

The ads fail to note Joyce’s 31 votes to repeal Obamacare – votes that would have likely stripped millions of women and children of their health care.  

Explaining the white male love affair with an unlovable man, columnist Roger Cohen put it this way in the Aug. 24 New York Times: “White Christian males losing their place in the social order decided they’d do anything to save themselves, and to heck with morality.  

“They made a bargain with the devil in full knowledge.”  

That bargain required selling out the country. Only women can buy it back. 

Brent Larkin was The Plain Dealer’s editorial director from 1991 until his retirement in 2009.

To reach Brent Larkin: blarkin@cleveland.com

Have something to say about this topic? Use the comments to share your thoughts. Then, stay informed when readers reply to your comments by using the “Follow” option at the top of the comments, and look for updates via the small blue bell in the lower right as you look at more stories on cleveland.com.

AP RADIO
Update hourly