Trump and the GOP's woman problem

If one thing is clear from the election news right now: Republicans have a woman problem. And no, I don't mean the smutty salacious Ted Cruz news about possible marital infidelities—it's too early to say exactly how that will play out. I'm referring to the Republican gender gap that may be a gender canyon come November.

It's no surprise Donald Trump is not doing well with women within his own party. If you need a refresher on why, just watch the"Quotes" ad by the anti-Trump group Our Principles PAC, led by a former Mitt Romney aide. In it, women read a litany of Trump's own damning words about women. The ad has been in heavy rotation in recent primary states, and has already been viewed online over three million times.

Adding fuel to the fire, Trump's campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, was arrested on Tuesday and charged with battery for grabbing a former reporter for the conservative news outlet Breitbart.

A supporter shouts to Donald Trump as he greets the crowd after speaking during a campaign event at the Savannah Center in West Chester, Ohio.
Jabin Botsford | The Washington Post | Getty Images
A supporter shouts to Donald Trump as he greets the crowd after speaking during a campaign event at the Savannah Center in West Chester, Ohio.

In every state exit or entrance poll so far this primary season, Trump's gender gap—the difference in men and women's support for him—ranged from as little as one point to a double-digit gap in Georgia, Florida, Michigan, and Alabama. This gap doesn't come from the particulars of the 2016 field; Gallup shows Republican women are far less likely to be favorable toward Trump. And compare Romney and McCain's 2012 and 2008 performances: Romney did consistently better with women in the primaries, while McCain's gender gap varied, but never strayed into double-digits.

Now, obviously Trump can win the nomination even with a weaker showing among women. He's already on path to do so. This could be why the Our Principles' PAC ad is actually aimed at men, according to the group's head and veteran Republican strategist Katie Packer, as evidenced by its line "This is how Donald Trump talks about our mothers, our sisters, our daughters." With Republican women already turning against him, a successful anti-Trump primary effort must also focus on men.

But should Trump emerge successful in Cleveland, his trouble with women seems likely to worsen, not improve. Women have been more blue than men since 1980, something I've written about extensively over the years at Huffington Post. Even in the rare year women voted Republican, like 2010, they were still six points more Democratic than men. Looking back historically, successful Republican candidates must keep the gender gap low, ideally within single digits.

This means Trump's gender gap should be troubling in the general election. In a recent Quinnipiac poll his gender gap is higher (9 points versus Hillary Clinton, 12 points versus Sanders) than that of the Cruz matchups (7 and 6, respectively), or John Kasich's (9 and 6).

The polling outlet Morning Consult also helpfully allows you to run their national general election data by party and gender—even independents. Polling from March shows Trump at times earns a double-digit gender gap with independents against either Clinton or Sanders (neither Cruz nor Kasich do).

And currently Trump has as large a gender gap with Republicans as with independents, a pattern you don't see with Cruz and Kasich. Right now, when it comes to reaching women, Republicans' problem is Trump, more than Clinton.

This is why Katie Packer, when asked if she's worried about where women voters will go if Trump is the nominee, said: "I don't need to worry. I know exactly where they go. I'm just sad about it. That's why I'm working so hard to stop Trump from getting the nomination."

Women make up half of Republican primary voters, over half of the general electorate, and are consistent swing voters. Any path to the White House for either party must include reaching non-Democratic women.

A focus on women's issues—broadly defined to include not just reproductive freedom, but also economic equality, equal pay, family leave, college affordability, child care, and elder care—makes good political sense.

It also makes good economic sense, given women are the primary breadwinners in 40 percent of households with children, comprise half of the workforce, are almost a third of small business owners, and, when in leadership positions, improve a corporation's chances at success.

But with Trump as the nominee, women's issues will mean temperament, as in, which candidate has the temperament to not call women fat pigs? It will mean less of a focus on the issues truly important to women—and men—and instead on empty phrases like "politically correct."

This may help Democrats' chances in November, but it hurts all women in the process.

Margie Omero is a Democratic pollster and strategist with twenty years experience working with Democratic candidates, progressive causes, and major brands. She's the Democratic research lead and spokesperson for an ongoing bipartisan project studying Walmart Moms—a proven key swing voting bloc. She co-hosts the podcast The Pollsters , and has appeared on every major cable news network. These are her own views.Follow her on Twitter @MargieOmero.

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