The divisive tribal partisanship so many sociologists and political pundits talk about today may, in the November midterms in 2018 and presidential election in 2020, boil down to little more than an amplification of the gender wars previously explained in John Gray’s 1992 bestseller, Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. A number of recent studies suggest Trump has succeeded in creating gender gaps in political preferences unseen in the history of American politics. The numbers are stunning and the implications affect all Americans and all issues, domestic and foreign.
Gender differences in political party affiliation first occurred in the mid-1960s when men began to prefer Republicans while women preferred Democrats. The gap between preferences has widened gradually ever since, but then widened dramatically following the election of Donald Trump. As Thomas Edsall recently pointed out in The New York Times, "The potential gender gap in congressional voting has risen from 20 and 22 points in 2014 and 2016, according to exit polls, to 33 points in a Quinnipiac Poll published earlier this month. Men of all races say they intend to vote for Republican House candidates 50-42, while women of all races say they intend to vote for Democratic candidates 58-33. Significantly, white women, a majority of whom backed Trump in 2016, now say they intend to vote for Democratic House candidates in 2018 by a 14-point margin, 52-38, according to Quinnipiac. White men say they intend to vote for Republican House candidates 56-38 in 2018."(1)
This gap also persists not just among all races, but among all demographic age cells; surprisingly, most pronounced among millennial males who prefer Republicans by a wider gap to their millennial female counterparts than do older age cells. Just a few weeks ago, Pew Research published this finding, citing that "Women voters younger than 35 support the Democrat by an overwhelming margin (68% to 24%), while younger men are divided (47% favor the Democrat, 50% favor the Republican). The gender gap among voters ages 35 and older is more modest: 49% of older women favor the Democrat, as do 42% of older men."(2)
In the event you are thinking, “But wait, that’s a preference for the Republican Party, but not necessarily for Trump” you would be wrong. Not only is Trump’s overall approval rating rock-steady (40% among all adults), a plurality of Republicans believe Trump has “changed the GOP for the better” while just 9% say he “has changed the GOP for the worse.”(3) The Republican Party is very much the party of Trump. Never-Trump Republicans (which I had hoped were a large and robust contingent) are, at best, outliers.
The strategic implications for this are many for both parties and for both the midterms in 2018 and the presidential elections in 2020.
- If you are appalled by Trump’s rhetoric and antics expect much more of it, perhaps at even greater levels than you have seen thus far.Why? Because it works well for him, politically. Men, in particular, see Trump as their best hope to preserve patriarchy. As Steve Pinker, a Harvard professor of psychology suggested in Edsall’s column, Trump is "almost a caricature of a contestant to be Alpha baboon: aggressive, hypersensitive to perceived threats to his dominance, boastful of his status and physical attributes (including his genitals), even the physical display of colorful big hair and a phallic red tie. Men may identify with such displays."(4)
- To achieve victory in the coming elections, Republicans would be wise to focus on men who have traditionally voted for Democrats and who may be—quietly or not—turned off by gender-based issues like the MeToo movement. (It is important for Democrats to remember that the vast majority of sexual assaults are perpetrated by very few serial offenders; painting all men with the same brush—as unfortunately many MeToo advocates do—is a politically risky proposition.) This especially applies to working class Democratic men who, despite much evidence Trump has failed on his promises to them, appear committed to support him, at least through the 2018 midterm elections. So far, these men are willing to buy into the idea that Trump’s failures are not his fault; that the media and various fantasy conspiracies have precluded him from serving their interests.
- Expect much more bashing by Trump of foreign leaders, especially Angela Merkel of Germany and Theresa May of Great Britain who are obvious targets of Trump’s machismo. Similarly, Putin of Russia, Erdogan of Turkey, and Duterte of the Philippines represent tough-guy proxies for Trump’s war on women. And, patriarchy and nationalism are easy bedfellows since they share a common denominator: they are both exclusionary regimes that benefit the few at the expense of the many.
- Race-baiting also works well for Trump, and not just among white males. Curiously, and I’m not sure how to definitively understand this yet, Trump’s race-baiting, accomplished partly through his immigration cruelties, does not seem to affect Hispanic males as one might expect. Perhaps because they appreciate more his cultural nod to machismo than his ridicule of their race, which machismo, at least historically, has been more prominent in their culture than with American Anglos.
- For Democrats, get-out-the-vote programs should be aimed squarely at women to take advantage of the pronounced swing of women toward the Democratic party since Trump’s election. If current preferences hold (which may even increase), the key to victory will likely be getting women to vote and, as a counter to Republican appeals to working class Democratic men, in getting disaffected Republican women to vote for Democratic women candidates. A pink-hued blue wave may affect the tsunamic destruction of the Republican Party. Playing the gender card may also, however, alienate some men (see MeToo comment above), but I suspect those vulnerable to Trump’s chest-beating may have already flipped.
- Democratic women candidates have a natural advantage in this gender gap-cum-chasm.But, while they would be wise to artfully counter Trump’s antics on his gender and race baiting, doing so has the potential to also solidify his support among undecided men. There is a fine line here. Success may come more easily by promoting thoughtful solutions to pocketbook issues like healthcare and the emerging economic consequences of Trump’s tariffs, which should make him vulnerable with both men and women. Being anti-Trump is clearly not enough; positive policy solutions to gender-neutral issues may be the key to tipping the electoral scales.
As Edsall concluded, "Men’s commitment to protecting their status — their dominant position in the social order — cannot be counted out in 2018 or 2020. Elections have become a sexualized battlefield, and men have repeatedly demonstrated their determination to win no matter the social cost. The outcome of the next two elections will show whether women are equally determined to fight tooth and nail."(5)
Mars and Venus indeed appear to be on a new collision course.
Copyright © 2018 Dr. William Steding, Ameritecture, All rights reserved.
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1. Thomas B. Edsall, “What Happens if the Gender Gap Becomes a Gender Chasm?,” The New York Times, July 12, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/12/opinion/trump-midterms-gender-gap.html.
2. Pew Research Center, “Voters More Focused on Control of Congress – and the President – than in Past Midterms,” June 20, 2018, www.pewresearch.org.
3. Ibid, p. 11.
4. OpCit, #1.