“I think, generally, the last two months have been a good reminder that most people made up their minds about Donald Trump a long time ago, and nothing is going to change their opinion,” says the GOP consultant Alex Conant, a founding partner at Firehouse Strategies and the communications director for Senator Marco Rubio’s 2016 presidential campaign. “If they like him, everything he does just affirms why they like him, and if they don’t like him, everything he does reaffirms why they don’t like him.”
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This dynamic is most clearly apparent when looking at the combined impact of race, education, and gender in driving views about the pandemic and the 2020 race between Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden.
Among white voters, the pattern for decades has been that men generally vote more Republican than women, while voters with at least a four-year college degree lean more toward Democrats than those without advanced education. The two antithetical poles of opinion: White men without a college degree consistently lean toward the GOP; white women with a college degree typically favor Democrats, with that tilt intensifying under Trump.
Every data source on the 2016 election, such as the exit polls conducted by Edison Research for a consortium of media organizations, showed Trump winning those men by enormous margins while losing the women by varying amounts depending on the survey. In the 2018 House elections, blue-collar white men backed Republican candidates by about two to one, according to the exit polls, while college-educated white women gave Democrats a 20-percentage-point edge, by far the largest margin among those voters that the surveys have ever recorded.
The two groups quickly retreated to their respective corners during the coronavirus crisis. In last week’s national CNN poll, two-thirds of white men without a college degree said they approved of Trump’s handling of the outbreak, according to figures provided by the CNN polling director Jennifer Agiesta. In surveys from April 28 through May 18, the daily Navigator tracking poll, run by two Democratic polling firms, found that about three-fifths of these men approved of Trump’s response. By contrast, in both the CNN and Navigator polls, 56 percent of college-educated white women disapproved of Trump’s performance.
That gap applies to other recent measures of voter sentiment about the pandemic. While 55 percent of blue-collar men said in the CNN poll that they are comfortable returning to their normal routines, 68 percent of college-educated white women said they are not. In a Monmouth University poll released earlier this month, twice as many non-college-educated white men said Trump is providing helpful, rather than harmful, information on the virus; college-educated white women were more than three times as likely to say that his information was harmful rather than helpful, according to detailed results provided by the poll director Patrick Murray.