How do women view Donald Trump?
A broad swath of American voters aren't fans. But among Republican women, the New York billionaire is hands-down the most popular candidate.
"I see Donald Trump as a protector of America," Beverly Perlson from Aurora, Ill. says in a Tuesday phone interview. "Most mothers are protectors of their children. I don't buy it that women don't support Trump because every woman I talk to absolutely loves him."
In this year's crowded campaign field, Mr. Trump has long been a favorite of Republican women at the polls, and trumps the favorability ratings of remaining GOP candidates Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Ohio Governor John Kasich. The New Yorker has a 59 percent favorability rating among registered Republican women, according to a CNN/ORC poll in mid-March, compared to 56 for Sen. Cruz and 47 percent for Gov. Kasich.
"He talks from his heart, it is not a memorized script," says Jean Morris, a 75-year-old retired schoolteacher from Largo, Fla. His honesty, his strength, his love for America — I saw that on day one."
And even as Mr. Cruz has tried to close the gap on Trump's lead by showing he is the women's candidate, bringing his wife and mother on board to warm up his personal image, three March polls conducted by Quinnipiac, CNN/ORC, and Pew found that GOP women still prefer Trump.
"I certainly don't think he is a perfect person, he has made mistakes and had his ups and downs — but I find that relatable," says Catherine, a 49 year-old from Madison, N.J., who declined to provide her last name for fear of discrimination at her workplace. "I am so tired of [politicians] trying to create this image that will pass with the electorate. His brash honesty is refreshing."
Are these women talking about the same candidate that nationally, according to a recent CNN/ORC poll, only 26 percent of registered female voters view favorably?
Between tweeting an unflattering photo of Heidi Cruz to suggest she was less attractive than his wife Melania, saying that women should be punished for having abortions during a CNN interview, calling Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly a "bimbo," supporting a campaign manager charged with battery of a female reporter, and criticizing former Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina's face, pundits and comedians don’t have difficulty characterizing Trump as sexist — and his supporters as clueless.
"As a woman, I like Donald Trump, but as a full-blown nut job, I frickin' love him," Cecily Strong said on the most recent Saturday Night Live show while impersonating Trump supporter Scottie Nell Hughes. To which CNN’s Kate Bolduan, played by SNL's Kate McKinnon, replied: "OK, but as a woman, how can you keep defending Mr. Trump?"
But Trump’s female supporters insist they are not ignorant, hypocritical, or betraying their gender. The media may frame Trump as sexist but America has more important issues, such as national security, the economy and immigration, they say, and Trump is the best candidate to tackle them.
"99.9 percent of people have said things they regret and maybe it wasn’t the best words to say," Billie Rose, a 52-year-old Trump supporter from Tucson, Ariz., says in a phone interview. "But I don’t care that he didn’t have the right words. Women's abortion at the moment? I don’t even care about that. I care about our economy. Are we going to be attacked by ISIS? Will there be anything left for my newborn grandchildren when they are my age?"
And their Trump loyalty endures, despite the candidate's comment this past week that women who receive an abortion should be subject to "some form of punishment." He later reversed his position to say he is pro-life with exceptions, and later tweaked his answer again to say it is the abortion doctors who should be punished, not the women.
"I don’t believe that he thinks women should be punished, it was just a bombarded interview. They are all just asking 'gotcha' questions," adds Susan Tarrance, a registered nurse from Charleston, S.C. "His argument with Rosie O'Donnell? Who cares. I think our country is in horrible trouble economically and security-wise. We need a strong leader who will tighten our borders. Women want to protect their children first and foremost."
Instead of feeling offended by Trump's remarks, his female supporters say they are empowered.
"A lot of people are offended by his comments, but I'm more offended by policies that make me not be able to support my family," says Catherine of Madison, N.J. "I’m middle class and I'm taken for granted in this country. I'm not poor enough to get help but I'm not rich enough to not care."
Regardless of gender, Trump polls particularly well with voters who are white, high-school educated, and earning less than $50,000 per year. His unfiltered, self-assured style "with big promises that are light on detail and heavy on bombast" is feeding a hunger for security that exists among American men and women alike. Despite working long hours to provide for their families, these women are frustrated — and Trump mirrors their frustration.
"Along comes this voice that says 'We are not going to stand for that anymore,'" adds Ms. Perlson, who is retired. "Politicians these days are so busy making sideline deals they have lost sight of who they work for. Trump is not taking money from anyone. He is genuinely interested in making America great again — that's the best way to say it."