How Donald Trump Got Gender Wrong (Again)

5440995138_b08f98ac3d_zOn Tuesday night, Donald Trump told his supporters and the press: “Frankly, if Hillary Clinton were a man, I don’t think she’d get 5 percent of the vote.” There’s no basis for that calculation, of course. It assumes that nearly 55 percent of the Democratic primary electorate voted for Clinton based on gender alone. More specifically, it would mean that about 75 percent of Black voters, 45 percent of unmarried voters, and 1 in 5 Democratic voters under 30 chose Clinton on the sole basis of her biology.

In an election where those considering candidate gender among many factors have been ridiculed as “vagina voters,” it’s incredibly unlikely that the majority of Democratic voters have been secretly voting along gender lines. Beyond that, facts and research prove Trump wrong. Although it might be easy to assume, women do not vote for women because they are women (and neither do men, for that matter). Even when candidate gender influences voters’ calculations, it stands among other—often more influential—factors, top among them party affiliation.

Trump’s math was off again in his Tuesday night speech when he added, “The beautiful thing is that women don’t like her. … And look at how well I did with women tonight.” According to exit polls, Clinton has earned about 61 percent of Democratic women’s votes in nominating contests to date. In contrast, Trump has won, on average, just 37 percent of Republican women’s votes in the GOP elections thus far. When women of both parties are polled, Clinton still dominates her male counterparts, including Trump. For example, an April Fox News poll has Clinton winning 55 percent of women’s votes in a hypothetical match-up against Trump, who earns just 33 percent of women’s support. These numbers are consistent with national match-ups between Clinton and Trump over the last few months. Contrary to Trump’s claims, then, Clinton does well with women, and better than Trump fares with women within his own party and nationwide.

Clinton has earned just under 60 percent of votes cast in the Democratic primary to date. In each of the calculations listed, I subtracted 5 percent from the average to indicate the threshold with which Trump argues voters used considerations other than candidate gender.


But do women like Clinton? A USA Today/Suffolk poll released this week shows 42 percent of all women have a favorable opinion of Clinton, and 48 percent have an unfavorable opinion of her. Women have a more favorable opinion of Clinton than men do, among whom only 33 percent rate Clinton favorably. But Clinton’s support among men matches the proportion of men rating Trump favorably, and surpasses Trump’s favorability among women, which is at just 24 percent. Trump’s assertion that women “don’t like” Clinton may be based on the 48 percent of women who view her unfavorably—so by that measure, women really dislike him.

Of course, relying on measures like these reduces women to a singular voting bloc, which they are not. Like Trump, Clinton fares better among some women—and men—than others. Democratic women were an essential part of her firewall against Bernie Sanders in competitive primary states, and there has been an average gender gap of 11 points in Democratic primaries to date, with Clinton faring (even) better among women than men.

Trump’s numerical blunders are only part of his miscalculations of how gender is at play in this race. On Tuesday, he repeated his claim that the “only thing [Clinton’s] got going [for her] is the woman card.” The reaction to, and derision of, Trump’s comments was swift, strong and sarcastic. Journalists and commentators questioned what the “woman card” is, how it could be played, and where evidence existed of gender being an advantage for women in the male-dominated world of presidential politics. Clinton addressed Trump’s claims in her Tuesday night victory speech by defining the gender card in her own terms, insisting that if “playing the woman card” meant addressing policy issues of key importance to women, “deal me in.”

Finally, the hypocrisy of Trump’s claims is not lost on those who recognize that gender cards are being played by all candidates, including the candidate who touted the size of his manhood at a March GOP debate. Trump’s performance of masculinity—whether in touting his own manliness, attempting to emasculate his opponents, or making misogynist comments that both assume and reinforce masculine dominance—adheres to long-held stereotypes of what it means to be a man. Clinton’s campaign, on the contrary, has challenged outdated expectations of how women should behave, while simultaneously disrupting what it looks (and sounds) like to be a presidential contender. If gender cards do exist, then, Trump is playing from an old deck while Clinton’s has altered the game.

How might Trump’s gender strategy affect his electoral prospects? To date, Trump’s machismo or misogyny has appeared to have little negative effect on his primary success. While Trump has fared worse than his primary opponents with GOP women, his supporters seem unoffended—and perhaps even impressed—by his adherence to traditional gender norms. A recent survey from the Public Religion Research Institute and The Atlantic sheds light on why this strategy is working among Trump’s primary electorate. More than two-thirds of Trump supporters report that society has become too “soft and feminine” in the survey, and half of them believe society benefits when men and women stick to the jobs and tasks they are “naturally suited for.”

The traditional views of Trump’s staunchest supporters do not represent the beliefs of a broader general election electorate, however. In the same survey, 60 percent of all Republicans believe society has become too “soft and feminine.” While Trump supporters’ views of gender roles mirror those of Republicans overall, they stand in stark contrast to the views of Democratic voters. In a general election, doubling down on the gender conservatism that Trump espouses seems likely to be an ineffective strategy in the fight for those in the ideological center. And though Trump has proven his capacity for energizing this conservative base, the potential for backlash and mobilization in response to his gendered comments or conduct—as has been evident in the 48 hours following the April 26 primaries—evidences the unlikelihood that his approach will yield a net advantage in moving from a presidential nomination into a general election victory.

In all, Trump’s gender calculations simply don’t add up.

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Photo courtesy of Flickr user Gage Skidmore licensed under Creative Commons 2.0


Kelly Dittmar is an assistant professor of political science at Rutgers University and a scholar at the Center for American Women in Politics. Find her on Twitter @kdittmar.