In the Battleground States, Trump’s Got a Problem: Women

The gender gap measures the difference in men and women’s votes for the leading candidate. Before and after the political conventions and into the fall, the gender gap remains stronger than ever.

In the Fight for the Battleground States, Women Voters Play a Critical Role
The Women’s March proceeds down the National Mall in Washington, D.C., on January 21, 2017. (Ted Eytan / Creative Commons)

Top Takeaways

  • Michigan: Biden leads among all voters—but especially women, with a gender gap of 12 points.
  • Wisconsin: Biden leads among voters with a staggering 15-point gender gap.
  • In Pennsylvania, often called a “must win” state, Biden’s lead relies on a gender gap of 10 points.
  • Florida: Biden leads with a gender gap of 11 points.
  • In North Carolina, Biden leads with five-point gender gap.
  • In Arizona, previously a long-standing Republican stronghold, Biden leads with an 11-point gender gap.

Tis the season of polls, and there are many. The amazing thing about election polls this year has been their consistency: The overall results in battleground states have been relatively stable throughout the past months.

Biden was leading early this year, he was leading just before the conventions, he was leading just after the conventions, and he is leading now in the fall.

Women make up the base of the Democratic party, and all year, the gender gap has played a critical role in Biden’s overall support. The internal dynamics of that lead can change, but in the end, the presidency is likely “up to the women.”

Battleground Poll Summary

The table below shows the role the gender gap plays in shaping electoral results across 11 top battleground states.

In the Fight for the Battleground States, Women Voters Play a Critical Role
All year, women voters have played an ever-growing, critical role in Biden’s overall support.

Political strategists remain focused on older women, suburban women, college educated white women, women of color, #MeToo voters, pro-choice voters, frontline workers (largely women), workers in low-wage jobs (also largely women), or unmarried women. In other words: women.

Women are not a monolithic group; we all do not share life experiences nor the same privilege. We are not necessarily progressive, religious, struggling or comfortable. Yet, most women can find themselves in one or more of these clusters of females that comprise what’s often called “the women’s vote.” 

At the beginning of the election cycle, six battleground states were featured and are discussed below. Three states run through the Rust Belt: Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania; and three states run through the Sun Belt: Florida, North Carolina, and Arizona.

In the Fight for the Battleground States, Women Voters Play a Critical Role
The Vote Feminist Art Parade, organized by artist Michele Pred collaboration with the wideawakes.com and The Berkeley Art Museum, on Oct. 3 in New York City. (Pontus Hook / Instagram: @lookforhook)

Here’s what likely voters now report are their preferences.

The Rust Belt States: Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania

MICHIGAN

Michigan was the most likely of the Rust Belt states to flip in support of Biden after Trump took the state in 2016. In Michigan, prior to the conventions, a July Fox Poll showed Biden leading Trump by nine points, with a 49 percent to 40 percent split among voters.

After the convention, the October New York Times/Siena Poll shows Biden ahead of Trump by eight points—48 percent to 40 percent.

Biden is ahead because of likely women voters. The July Fox poll shows men splitting their vote, 45 percent for Biden and 45 percent for Trump.  Women gave the larger part of their support to Biden with 53 percent compared to 35 percent for Trump. The gender gap is the difference between the percent of women who supported Biden (53 percent) minus the percent of men who supported him (45 percent)—an eight-point gender gap.

The overall margins before the conventions in August and after the conventions are about the same—nine points versus eight points. But, by post-convention polls in the fall, the gender gap had grown to 12 points: 54 percent women vs. 42 percent men.

The overall results are stable, but likely women voters have become even more important to Biden’s lead in Michigan.

WISCONSIN

Early on, Wisconsin was expected to be a hard state to turn from red to blue. It turns out Wisconsin looks a lot like Michigan. A July pre-convention poll by Gravis showed Biden leading Trump by eight points (50 percent to 42 percent).

The October New York Times/Siena poll shows that gap has grown: Biden is leading Trump by 10 points—51 percent to 41 percent—of likely voters.

Again, Biden is winning because of women’s support. Prior to the convention, men split slightly more towards Trump, at 49 percent support compared to Biden at 46 percent. Women overwhelmingly said they likely will vote for Biden (55 percent) compared to 46 percent of men supporting Biden or a 9-point gender gap. 

After the conventions, an October poll by New York Times/Siena showed a similar picture of the race overall: Biden was supported by 51 percent of respondents while Trump was chosen by 41 percent. The key difference in the post convention poll was the larger gender gap: 43 percent of men said they would vote for Biden in contrast to 58 percent of women or a 15-point gender gap.

PENNSYLVANIA

Pennsylvania, often called as a “must win” state, has Biden maintaining a lead.  The July Fox poll showed Biden leading Trump by 11 points (50 percent to 39 percent).

In October a New York Times/Siena poll has the margin closing somewhat, to 49 percent to 42 percent—though other polls show larger margins.

Prior to the party conventions, Trump had a small lead among men (45 percent to 42 percent), but Biden had a bigger lead among women (54 percent to 37 percent), for a 12-point gender gap.

Biden’s lead after the conventions had narrowed slightly, but the pattern was similar: Men gave Trump a slight advantage with 46 percent to Biden’s 44 percent. Women gave Biden a larger advantage (54 percent to 39 percent).

Like the overall lead, the gender gap had narrowed slightly, from 12 points to 10 points, but women’s likely support remains the dominant factor.

In the Fight for the Battleground States, Women Voters Play a Critical Role
Women’s March in Chicago, January 2017. (Shutter Runner / Flickr)

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The South and Sunbelt States: Florida, North Carolina, and Arizona

FLORIDA

Florida was a coronavirus hot spot over the summer. It is also experiencing large shifts in the demographic composition of the state and is not the Florida of 2016 elections.

The horse race between the presidential candidates remains virtually unchanged since July. In the period prior to the conventions, a July CNN poll showed Biden leading Trump by five points: 51 percent supported Biden; 46 percent favored Trump.

After the conventions, an October University of North Florida poll has Biden ahead of Trump by six points—51 percent to 46 percent—making this a “comfortable” lead.

Biden’s success is shaped by likely women voters in Florida. Before the conventions, men split their support: 48 percent for Biden and 49 percent for Trump. Women reported planning to give a larger number of their votes to Biden, 53 percent, in contrast to men’s support of Trump at 48 percent or a five-point gender gap.

After the conventions, very little has changed in the overall margin, but the internal dynamic shows a greater divergence between men’s and women’s choices. Men gave greater support to Trump (51 percent) than to Biden (45 percent), whereas women went for Biden by 56 percent to 39 percent.

The lead was still comfortable mainly because the gender gap had grown from five points to 11 points.

In the Fight for the Battleground States, Women Voters Play a Critical Role
The Vote Feminist Art Parade, organized by artist Michele Pred collaboration with the wideawakes.com and The Berkeley Art Museum, on Oct. 3 in New York City. (Pontus Hook / Instagram: @lookforhook)

NORTH CAROLINA

North Carolina is one of the fastest-growing states in the country experiencing a long economic expansion. The electorate has become younger, more diverse, and more progressive. In part, this means North Carolina is now a tight race.

In the period prior to the conventions, a July PPP poll showed Biden leading Trump by three points: 49 percent supported Biden, while 46 percent favored Trump. 

After the convention and into the fall campaign, an October Monmouth poll shows exactly the same numbers. 

Again, Biden’s lead is due to women voters. Before the conventions, men split their votes evenly with 48 percent for Biden and 49 percent for Trump. Women gave a larger number of their votes to Biden (53 percent) in contrast to men’s support (48 percent) for Biden or a five-point gender gap.

Monmouth’s post-convention poll is the first one, in this discussion of the gender gap in battleground states, showing a clear split between men and women’s candidate preference with 55 percent of women supporting Biden while 52 percent of men preferring Trump.

The gender gap measures the difference in men and women’s votes for the leading candidate—in this case Biden. Technically there is a 13-point gender gap in favor of Biden: 55 percent of women say they likely will vote for Biden in contrast to 42 percent of men.

If Trump were winning, there would be a 10-point gender gap in his favor—the difference between the 52 percent of men and the 42 percent of women who say they plan to vote for Trump in North Carolina. This three percent shift by women (13-point gender gap compared to a 10-point gender gap) makes a critical difference because the difference is larger in sheer numbers.

The demographic reality is that there are more women than men who are eligible to vote, more women who register to vote, and more women who do vote.

ARIZONA

Arizona is also a rapidly changing state and has shifted from being a long-standing Republican stronghold to a battleground state faster than expected. Several trends appear to be rapidly changing that will have an impact on attitudes of likely voters and turnout. Transplants from across the country, rapid urbanization, increasing number of Latino voters, a higher proportion of college educated residents, people moving into cities from rural areas and a large number of Independent voters—all are trends are having an impact. 

The 2018 election may be a harbinger of possibilities. Democrats won four statewide elections in 2018 and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema became the first Democrat elected to the U.S. Senate from Arizona in 30 years.

The race in Arizona prior to the political conventions (in a July CNN/SSRS poll) showed Biden with a four percent edge (49 percent of voter support in compared to Trump’s 45 percent).

After the political conventions, an October New York Times/Siena poll reports Biden over Trump by eight points (49 percent to 41 percent).

Entering the July convention season Biden garnered the majority of women’s support with 56 percent, compared to 43 percent of men’s support or a 13-point gender gap.

In October, after the conventions and into the fall, 55 percent of women reported support for Biden compared to 44 percent of men or an 11-point gender gap.

Countdown to the Elections

Three weeks still remain until the end of voting on Nov. 3. Vice President Biden is ahead in all six of the original battleground states and is comfortably ahead in Wisconsin (10 points), Michigan (eight points), Arizona (eight points), Pennsylvania (seven points), and Florida (six points). North Carolina remains a tighter race with a three-point lead.

Women will play a critical role in deciding if Biden remains close to a “promise” of victory or if Trump’s presidential reign remains. These races are likely to tighten, and the gender gaps could become smaller, so stay tuned.

Get caught up on all Ms.’s 2020 gender gap reporting:


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About

Ethel Klein is an author, pollster and campaign strategist. Formerly, she was a professor of political science at Harvard University and Columbia University. Klein is the founder of EDK Associates, a public opinion research firm.