“It would make me so excited to vote for a woman for president,” said Alice from Michigan. “I do think I will see one in my lifetime, and, as the mother of a daughter, it would especially thrill me.”
Yet Alice voted for Donald Trump in 2016 and expects to vote for him again in 2020. When I asked her why she didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton, she said, “Hillary is an elitist Democrat who doesn’t care about women like me.” Alice wondered if liberal women would be willing to vote for female candidates like Nikki Haley, Ivanka Trump, or Condoleezza Rice.
What is in the minds of women who support Trump? This is a key question people ask me about the panel of 500 voters with whom I’ve interacted since 2016. They want to know how any woman can vote for a bully, whether they care that he has been accused of sexual assault by multiple women, how they can support a president who puts children in cages, or why they would support someone who wants to take away the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare. Isn’t this a terrible model for their children?
To answer these questions, I took a deep dive with 50 women who support Trump. I found two overarching themes: first, that women valued Trump’s policies over anything else, and second, that they saw Trump as a refreshing change from those they perceive to be elitist candidates of either gender who failed to understand and respect the power and determination of conservative women.
Women could be the difference in the presidential election. According to the Pew Research Center, women tend to vote at higher rates than men. And numerous studies of voters in key swing states, like Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, have found that white working-class women could determine the next president.
Policy — especially linked to the economy — matters deeply to women who voted for Trump, and to them it outweighs his coarse behavior. “In spite of all of the resistance, he has accomplished so much that is important to me,” said Dianne from New Hampshire. “Our economy is booming, unemployment is low, homeownership is up, our defenses are being reinforced, ISIS is weakened, and he is getting fairer trade deals.” Again and again, women stressed the health of their local economies: building booms, more jobs, and more people out shopping. And they credit the president for their prosperity.
The other big factor for female Trump voters is what they call his “respect” for them, a fundamental belief that Washington is run by people with multiple degrees from elite schools who look down upon them. They dwell on Barack Obama’s statement that they are bitter and clinging to their guns and religion and Hillary Clinton’s remarks about deplorables. Before Trump, they felt that they had no voice and no power. Said Anna from Iowa, “Donald Trump actually likes and respects people like me. He gets that the average citizen of the USA is not stupid, and the Democrats have not figured that out yet.”
These factors outweighed Trump’s boorish behavior. “He is not a politician,” said Susan from Ohio. “I wouldn’t want my daughter to date him, but I wouldn’t want her to date Bill Clinton or JFK or any of the other predators who have been in the White House.”
Trump also appeals to women who feel that the women’s movement has left them behind. Katie from North Carolina described it this way: “You know, not all women are pro-choice, not all women obsess over the glass ceiling, and many women want smaller government and a continued good economy.” Added Cynthia from Massachusetts, “The women’s movement does not represent me. A Women’s March with no conservative women involved? A real women’s movement would embrace all of us. It would fight for equal pay, equal opportunity, personal safety, and assistance in raising future generations. But feminists of today detest people like me, so why would I want to support them?” A majority of these Trump supporters feel alienation from liberal women, whom they perceive to be “angry” and “fist-clenching.”
Some of these women are open to alternatives to Trump — so long as that alternative isn’t too radical. Said Chrissy from New Jersey, “I am embarrassed by his tweeting and his behavior, and I also believe that we need someone who is less divisive — but I don’t see a choice when the Democrats stand for giving everything away for free.”
For every woman like Chrissy, however, there are many others who will support Trump regardless of who runs against him. They sound like Brenda from Pennsylvania. “He is the most transparent president ever, and he follows through on his promises,” she said. “He loves and supports his family, and he respects my money, rather than wanting to squander it.”
Women who support Trump know what they are looking for, and they believe it’s not what the Democratic front-runners are offering. They would advise Democrats to abandon impeachment, censure the president, and focus on how to fix our broken country. They want answers to questions such as: How will you keep our economy booming? How will you continue to keep jobs plentiful? How will you manage our illegal immigration crisis? How will you control the growing costs of health care? How will you give our children better lives? And how will you do this without increasing my taxes?
Many Democrats would probably compare these comments to hearing fingernails on a blackboard, convinced that women who support Trump live in an alternate universe. And most polls find resounding support by women for a Democratic candidate over Trump in November. Thus, one path for Democrats is to give up on these women and focus on a different segment, such as the youth vote. This is certainly what the Trump campaign is banking on, as they invest in Women for Trump events and outreach in battleground states that are likely to be pivotal in the general election.
Is there a way to win the hearts of these women? Unless another candidate comes along who they believe respects them and their pocketbooks, they won’t be buying the book “A Very Stable Genius.” Instead, they’ll vote to reelect the president.
Diane Hessan is an entrepreneur, author, and chair of C Space. She has been in conversation with 500 voters across the political spectrum weekly since December 2016. Follow her on Twitter @DianeHessan. See her methodology at https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/5979231-Diane-Hessan-Methodology.html