How Donald Trump handed Hillary Clinton the 'woman card' and the election

Remember when Donald Trump said it was easier for him to be "presidential?" Neither do we, and apparently neither does he.

The Republican front runner may have gotten a little bit closer to becoming president last week, after sweeping all five states in Tuesday's primary, but he's no closer to acting presidential.

His sneering post-election comments about Hillary Clinton, like her yelling, her playing "the woman card," and the laughable assessment that she'd be at 5 percent if she were a man all reinforce what has been true about Trump for years: he has a woman problem.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump in Albany, NY.
Jabin Botsford | The Washington Post | Getty Images
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump in Albany, NY.

The question is: can he turn his woman problem into a winning strategy in the general election?

The simple answer, of course, is no. Women make up a majority of the electorate, and they currently overwhelmingly dislike Trump. It's not just Democratic women who dislike Trump—he does less well with Republican women than with Republican men.

Married women—a group giving Romney a 7-point lead in 2012—give Clinton a 12-point advantage in a recent Bloomberg Politics/Purple Strategies poll. And while sometimes you'll hear voters and pundits say (or hope) Trump will "mellow" once in office, his anti-woman record is decades long. This is who he is. It's not an act.

That said, as with the other political loogies Trump hocks, his "woman card" rhetoric reflects a potential problem. Voters may simultaneously recognize sexism and not want it pointed out to them as they make voting decisions. The same poll of married women shows a majority feel Clinton has received "no better or worse" treatment because of her gender.

And about as many feel she has been treated better because of her gender as those sensing she's been treated worse. Even larger numbers of married women say they feel no differently toward Clinton because of her gender.

Yet it's hard to measure bias by asking voters to self-report. One recent study by Fairleigh Dickinson University primes some respondents to think about changing gender roles by asking about household income distribution between men and women. Men primed with this question were more likely to vote for Trump versus Clinton than men who weren't.

Women primed with the question were more likely to vote for Clinton than those who weren't. There was no such effect in a Trump vs. Sanders matchup. This means thinking about changing gender roles makes both genders prefer a candidate that matches their own.

And when asked more broadly beyond the presidential race, far more see gender holding women back in leadership. A recent Pew Research Center poll showed about half of women and about a third of men feel women in politics or business are "held to higher standards than men."

For women, this was seen as one of the main obstacles to women getting ahead. Millennials are not necessarily more optimistic. A new Harvard Institute of Politics poll shows two-thirds of women and half of men feel there is a "glass ceiling" holding back women's advancement.

Woman's Card Hillary Clinton

So Trump supporters may be right in that emphasizing the historic nature of Clinton's candidacy may not ultimately help her. But Trump's attempt to minimize her candidacy with coarse language certainly won't help him. Faring well with women voters means more than knowing how or whether or not to play "the woman card."

To do well with women, a candidate needs to demonstrate an understanding of women voters and women's issues. Clinton has decades of accomplishments on this front, while Donald Trump has none. He has gone all in with his anti-woman strategy, and is destined to be tossed out in November.

Commentary by Margie Omero, 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 also co-hosts the podcast The Pollsters . Disclosure: her husband is a media consultant to Sanders for President. These are her own views. Follow her on Twitter @MargieOmero.

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