The 2012 election year saw one of the biggest gender gaps in history, with women voting for President Barack Obama in huge numbers.
Four years later, the role of women in determining the elections may once again be noteworthy. Data from early voting in North Carolina, Florida, and Georgia are showing that women, especially Democratic women, are voting early in disproportionate numbers, as Politico reports.
“That’s certainly an energy and mobilization indicator this early for the Clinton campaign and Democrats down ballot,” J. Michael Bitzer, expert on early voting in North Carolina at Catawba College told Politico.
While a gender gap in voting is normal, some polls have indicated that the 2016 elections may see the largest gap ever, although it is too early to tell if it will eclipse Obama’s record. The motivation may be traced to what is at stake this election: a potential first female president in the history of the United States and alienation from presidential candidate Donald Trump who has made public remarks viewed as misogynistic, with 10 women accusing him of sexual misconduct.
According to early poll data in North Carolina analyzed by Mr. Bitzer, 87,000 Democratic women voters cast early ballots compared to 60,000 Republican women, while 50,000 Republican men and 52,000 Democrat men have done the same.
In Florida, early-voting expert Daniel Smith from the University of Florida found that 55 percent of the 880,000 people who had cast early ballots by the end of Wednesday were women, although they represent less than 53 percent of registered voters in the state. A poll on Friday from Georgia indicates Clinton in the lead by 5 percentage points among early voters due to a bump in support from early-voting women.
The phenomenon of women voting early, the experts noted, occurred especially after the first debate when among other things, Trump attacked Miss Universe Alicia Machado for gaining weight. Absentee ballot requests surged among women in Georgia and North Carolina in that week.
“In the big scheme of things, these are small numbers relative to the total ballots that will be cast in these states,” Michael McDonald, an early vote expert who runs the United States Elections Project, wrote in a blog for Huffington Post regarding the surge. “Still, I suspect that at least some of the movement towards Clinton in the polling is due to increased interest in the election among women, thus making them more often fit the profile of a likely voter.”
FiveThirtyEight founder Nate Silver had written earlier this month that “if Trump loses the election, it will be because women voted against him.” By looking at data from multiple polls in October, he found that Clinton led Trump by 15 percentage points among women while she is behind Trump by 5 percentage points among men. Another writer for the site, Harry Enten, looked at historical data and contended that Clinton’s lead among women is the biggest since 1972.
But it's still too early to say whether the surge in early voting among women is significant. The Democratic party overall tends to gain more from early voting, and the gap between the two candidates is still narrow. A Reuters/Ipsos poll released Friday showed that up to 63 percent of voters polled believe that Trump has committed sexual assault in the past, but they still support him, indicating loyalty for party over candidate.
There has been, however, some party-line crossing by Republican women to support Hillary Clinton, as previously reported by The Christian Science Monitor. Michele Swers, professor at Georgetown University, tells The Monitor that “party affiliations in general trump gender,” but also: “It’s rare that you can say these things and not have more problems.”