Trump has always had a woman problem, the Democratic pollster Celinda Lake told me. But in the next presidential election, “we’re headed toward a record gender gap for sure.” If women in general are “far, far more critical of Donald Trump than men,” Lake added, “this is particularly true among independent women and white women.”
Before the impeachment process began, these two groups were already ones to watch in 2020: Independents are always subject to a tug-of-war between the parties during election season, and white women were a key demographic for Trump in 2016. While the majority of American women voted for Hillary Clinton that year—including more than 90 percent of black women and 60 percent of Latina women—he won white women by a 10-point margin. These voters, especially those without a college degree, were just enough to put Trump over the edge in swing states like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, which ultimately helped him win the Electoral College.
But since the election, Trump’s support among women hasn’t improved; even among white women, it appears to have dropped. “Today white women go for the Democratic candidate by double digits in every scenario,” read an August Quinnipiac poll, which compared each of the Democratic presidential candidates in head-to-head matchups with Trump. In the 2018 midterm elections, Democrats won a majority in the House with a record number of female candidates and a surge of women turning out to vote, especially Republican women in the suburbs who flipped parties. And national polls throughout the past year have shown that enthusiasm for Trump among white working-class women specifically may be dwindling, despite his success with these voters three years ago. “The white working-class men look like they are approaching the 2016 margins for Trump, but not the women,” the veteran Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg told my colleague Ron Brownstein in July. “Clearly the women are in a different place.”
Women’s response to the House’s ongoing impeachment investigation is the latest sign that their anti-Trump stance is persisting. Worryingly for Trump, it’s not just women in blue states who feel this way. In a New York Times/Siena College survey of voters in Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Arizona, and Florida—six states expected to be key battlegrounds in 2020—49 percent of female respondents said they “somewhat” or “strongly” support the impeachment and removal of the president, compared with 36 percent of male respondents. Among white women in those states, 50 percent support the inquiry, with 44 percent backing both Trump’s impeachment and removal. Among non-college-educated white women specifically, those numbers shrink slightly, to 45 percent and 39 percent, respectively.
The nature of the impeachment inquiry may be part of the reason for women’s support. They’re more “security-oriented and risk-averse” than men, Lake told me, which means that Trump’s request for a foreign power to interfere in the 2020 presidential election may be all the more salient to them. And women in general are more repulsed by Trump’s rhetoric and style, both of which have reached new levels of venom since the impeachment inquiry began. To win them over—or win them back—Trump has to hope that they “look at his policy, not his personality,” says Tom Shields, the founder of a Michigan-based polling firm that often works with Republican candidates. Given the president’s penchant for expressing himself through insult-laden tirades on Twitter and elsewhere, “he’s gonna have a tough time doing that.”