Recently, Donald Trump reviewed his poll numbers with a North Carolina audience, noting, “I don’t know what’s going on with the women.” For some Republican women, the situation is much clearer. They have engaged in explicitly public efforts to oppose their own party’s nominee, creating one of the more interesting narratives of the 2016 presidential election. These women, many of whom identify as committed Republicans, have undertaken different strategies to criticize or derail Trump’s bid for President. Some women have declared their opposition to Trump well before he was their party’s nominee or, now that he is the nominee, their intention to not vote in the presidential contest and instead focus on supporting Republicans in competitive down-ballot contests. For other Republican women, the opposition to Trump is not enough. They have publicly declared their willingness to vote, if not raise money and campaign, for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton through the group Republican Women for Hillary. I will profile those Republican women who have specifically declared an intention to vote for Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in a future post, but focus here on the efforts of Republican women to oppose Trump but remain faithful to other GOP candidates.
Even before Trump was formally nominated to be the Republican Party’s nominee, Republican women led efforts to mobilize primary voters against Trump. One of the most vocal and relentless critics of Trump is Katie Packer, Republican Party strategist and 2012 deputy campaign manager for Governor Romney’s presidential bid. She founded Our Principles PAC, a super-PAC opposed to Donald Trump. According to its most recent campaign finance report, Our Principles raised nearly $20 million dollars and spent over $16 million dollars during the primaries to oppose Donald Trump. Packer is not a garden variety Republican operative. She and colleagues Ashley O’Connor and Christine Matthews created the all-women strategy group, Burning Glass Consulting, whose mission is to “work with campaigns, party organizations and other consultants on any campaign effort which needs to better understand, and win, women voters.” For their part, Packer and colleagues employ a strategy similar to the one espoused in the 2013 Republican Growth and Opportunity Project, a post-election examination of the Republican Party’s efforts in the 2012 presidential and congressional elections. Among other directives, the post-mortem report called on the Republican Party to, “embrace women voters and show a commitment to issues women care about….do a better job communicating why our policies are better, while using female spokespeople to do it.” Whereas Packer endorses this strategy to positive effect for Republican candidates, Trump has rejected it and remains particularly unpopular with women voters, even those who identify as Republican.
And here Packer and her colleagues understand the electoral importance of women voters in a way that Trump thus far has been unable to grasp. For decades, Republican presidential candidates have received a lower percentage of the vote from women voters than from men voters. Presidents Ronald Reagan (1984) and George H.W. Bush (1988) each received at least 50 percent of the women’s vote. More recent Republican candidates have fared less well with women voters. To be sure, women are not a monolithic group; Mitt Romney won the vote of white women and married women in 2012 over Obama but ran very poorly with women of color and younger women. Romney won 44 percent of women’s votes on Election Day, higher than Trump has been polling with women to date. Campaigns ignore women voters at their peril; women are more reliable voters than men and have turned out to vote in greater numbers since the 1964 election.
Neither presidential candidate can win without the support of women voters in 2016. Indeed, attracting support from women voters is a central part of Hillary Clinton’s campaign strategy. How women voters play into Donald Trump’s strategy for winning the White House is less clear, and recent attempts by Trump surrogates to speak on issues of interest to women have done little to help his standing in that regard. Trump’s current and sustained unpopularity with women voters, particularly those in his own party, will make it very difficult to win over this vitally important voting bloc.
Rosalyn Cooperman is an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, VA. Cooperman’s research focuses on the relationship between political parties, PACs, and women candidates, as well as elite attitudes regarding women’s political participation. Since 2004, Cooperman has served as a principal investigator for the Convention Delegate Study, a survey of Democratic and Republican party delegates. She is also co-principal investigator for the 2014 National Supporter Survey, a survey of campaign donors to political parties and women’s PACs. In addition to the publication of book chapters on women candidates, Cooperman’s research on political parties has been published in such journals as American Political Science Review and Political Science Quarterly. Cooperman serves as a commentator for U.S. News & World Report’s Debate Club. She received her B.A. from Indiana University and her Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University.