Women are not a monolithic voting bloc. All aspects of a woman’s identity—her political party, race, ethnicity, age, socioeconomic status, and sexual orientation— inform her voting decisions. Women stand at the intersections of diverse identities, holding distinct motivations, priorities, and preferences based on both life experiences and world views. Delving deeper into these complexities provides a more complete understanding of the influence and behavior of women voters in the presidential race. Gender is one among many factors voters might consider in choosing a candidate. Most importantly, candidates on both sides of the aisle must take an issues-based approach to effectively target women voters, focusing on the policy areas that matter most to women.
Those were the takeaways from a press conference call convened by Presidential Gender Watch 2016, a nonpartisan project of the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) and the Barbara Lee Family Foundation (BLFF) to track, analyze, and illuminate gender dynamics in the 2016 presidential election. BLFF founder and president Barbara Lee and CAWP scholar Dr. Kelly Dittmar led a discussion with three guest experts on women voters across diverse groups – Republican women, Latinas, and Black women – including Republican pollster Christine Matthews; political scientist Dr. Anna Sampaio; and political strategist Glynda Carr. Those issues that matter most to women differ across three voting groups examined:
“Republican women are very unnerved in the current environment, and they are looking for candidates with tough rhetoric,” said Christine Matthews, president of Bellwether Research and partner at Burning Glass Consulting.
- For Republican women, terrorism and national security are top issues, according to Matthews. They are definitely the “security moms” in this election cycle.
- Matthews’s research has shown that Republican women are looking for a candidate who is going to be tough and decisive because they don’t think President Obama has had an effective plan to deal with terrorism or national security issues.
- Because Republican women are the most disaffected group of voters in the country (87% say the country is going in the wrong direction), messages about changing the system resonate with them, Matthews said.
- Many Republican women continue to support Donald Trump, but his support is really an education gap, as opposed to a gender gap. Trump does better among non-college-educated Republicans, including non-college educated women, according to Matthews.
“Enthusiasm [among Latinas] has been stoked in large part because of the centrality of immigration in this election cycle: both the resurgence of demonizing language unequivocally targeting Latinas/os, as well as the breadth of detailed policy reforms coming out of the Democratic candidates,” said Dr. Anna Sampaio, associate professor of ethnic studies and political science and director of ethnic studies at Santa Clara University.
- Despite the presence of two high profile Latino candidates in the race at this point — Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz — there has been no surge of Latina support within the Republican party, nor an exodus from the Democrats to the GOP, owing almost entirely to the hostile and targeted language aimed at this population, Sampaio said.
- Immigration is the most important issue for the majority of Latina voters.
- Evidence suggests that anti-immigration rhetoric from individual Republican candidates not only damages that candidate in the eyes of Latina voters, but can also damage Latina voters’ image of that candidate’s political party overall, according to Sampaio.
“Black women’s participation in the last two presidential elections transcended just showing up at the polls and voting in record numbers. They demonstrated that when you engage Black women voters in a meaningful way, they do not go to the polls alone,” said Glynda Carr, co-founder of Higher Heights. “They organize and mobilize their house, their block, their church, and their sorority.”
- Black women are the backbone of the Democratic Party, as the most reliable voters, stated Carr.
- In 2008 and 2012, black women voted at higher rates than all other race/gender subgroups.
- Economic matters, such as ensuring a livable wage and affordable healthcare, as well as criminal justice, are among the top issues for black women voters in 2016, according to Carr.
- Just as black women did not vote for Barack Obama simply because he was a black man, they will not vote for a woman based on gender alone, she said. “Black women don’t just vote; they organize their communities by themselves, for themselves,” Carr said.
A full recording of the conference call is available here.