But will that do anything to hurt a politician who has so far seemed immune to harm? Trump supporters love the fact that, in their eyes, he tells it like it is, throwing political correctness out the window. Far from a liability, that has been a key reason for Trump’s success. Still, while the Republican candidate has convinced plenty of voters to side with him, there is reason to believe his controversial statements have taken a toll on his standing with women. A Gallup poll released in April indicated that Trump has become increasingly unpopular with women as the primary election drags on. In July 2015, 58 percent of women had an unfavorable image of Trump. By March 2016, that had jumped to a full 70 percent.
It seems likely that Trump being Trump has damaged his popularity—not necessarily with the conservative voters who have faithfully supported him, but with women who make up the broader electorate. “The Republican primary electorate is going to be more forgiving of him,” said Kelly Dittmar, a scholar at the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. “But when he tries to win over female swing voters, those moderates at the center, and unmarried women who will be key to this election, they may be more offended by things he has said than women who were already in his camp.” The teflon armor that has kept Trump safe so far may not protect him in the general election.
But if so many women dislike Trump already, why focus attention there? Jennifer Lawless, the director of the Women and Politics Institute at American University, suggests the ad campaign may not be so much about trying to make Trump even more unpopular with women as it is about making sure feelings of ill-will toward him don’t fade. “The Trump campaign’s efforts for the next few months will be to try and peel back some of that distaste,” Lawless said. “If Democrats are able to go out there and depict him as a candidate who will not, in fact, be good for women, that will keep them on stronger footing. It’s not necessarily about motivating women even further; it’s making sure that they stay turned off.”
Women are of course not a monolithic voting bloc. But attacks against Trump focused on women could prove effective across several categories of voters. They might motivate turnout for Clinton among Democratic women inclined to dislike Trump but who may not follow politics closely and might otherwise consider sitting out the November election. They could sway undecided voters to support Clinton over Trump, or persuade Republican women who will never vote for Clinton to also not vote for Trump. “Democrats have multiple paths to potentially win, and one that no one wants to talk about because it’s not good for democratic legitimacy is making sure that turnout is low on the other side,” Lawless said.