The Gender Gap and a High-Stakes Election

Voters this November will go to the polls to select governors and state legislators, and determine the makeup of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. The stakes for women in the midterm elections could not be higher. The outcome will determine whether the Trump administration can push forward with its agenda—or be held in check.

If current trends hold, women’s votes will be decisive in the election’s outcome.

That’s because public opinion polls are showing a massive gender gap between what men and women say is important to their voting decisions. And historically, more women than men vote in elections: If the November election follows earlier midterm elections, 5 to 6 million more women than men will cast ballots, according to U.S. Census figures cited in a report from the Center for American Women and Politics.

Starting the day after Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th president, when 5.6 million of us joined Women’s Marches across the country and around the world, women have mobilized to oppose the president’s agenda. In poll after poll, women voters disapprove of Trump’s performance as president in significantly higher numbers than men.

According to a Washington Post/Schar School of Policy and Government poll released in early July, 55 percent of voters disapprove of Trump’s handling of his job as president, with 43 percent approving. Among women, 65 percent disapprove of Trump, with only 32 percent approving. By contrast, Trump’s approval rating among men is 54 percent, with 45 percent disapproving—a 20-point gender gap. Even among Republicans, far fewer women than men strongly approve of Trump’s handling of his job: 68 percent of Republican men compared to only 31 percent of Republican women—a gender gap of 37 points. And almost twice as many women believe Trump is damaging “important American values” as compared to women who believe he is protecting those values (54 percent to 29 percent).

The gender gap in Trump’s approval rating has persisted since his election, with a majority of women disapproving—including younger women, college-educated women, Latinas, African American women and white women.

On issue after issue, women and men voters diverge in their assessments of who can best take the country forward. Asked to rate the single issue that is most important in determining their vote in congressional races this year, voters rank the economy and jobs most important, followed by health care and immigration. More than six in 10 men, but fewer than four in 10 women, approve of Trump’s handling of the economy—and among Republican men and women, there was a difference of 27 points, according to the Washington Post-Schar School poll. On immigration, including Trump’s policy of separating children from their parents at the border, 51 percent of men disapprove, in contrast to 67 percent of women.

When asked how important it is to vote in this year’s midterm elections for Congress, 75 percent of voters said it was extremely or very important. And 37 percent said they will be voting to “show opposition to Trump,” with 25 percent voting to show support.

Never, it seems, have midterm elections mattered more.


Katherine Spillar is the executive director of Feminist Majority Foundation and executive editor of Ms., where she oversees editorial content and the Ms. in the Classroom program.