Gender vs. party: Why Republican women are moving to Clinton’s camp

A small group of Republican women have started 'Republican Women for Hillary.' Why some female conservatives are unwilling to vote for Donald Trump.

Julio Cortez/AP/File
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton greets supporters in New York on June 7. Some Republican women are moving into Ms. Clinton's camp.

This past week, a group of women got together in Washington DC to map out their strategy to get Hillary Clinton elected president. The plan: organize get-out-the-vote efforts and hold politically oriented social events. The catch: these women are Republicans.

"It's really important that Republican leaders, especially Republican women leaders, stand up right now and say we're not OK with Trump representing our party," Jennifer Lim, a group founder who has been actively involved in Republican campaigns up until this year, told CNN reporter Chris Moody.

These "Republican Women for Hillary" have not had a sudden change of heart about the core policies that have made them vote Republican all their lives, explained Ms. Lim. Instead, they simply want to keep Donald Trump out of office, she says. They believe his election would be disastrous for the party.

This rhetoric fits, albeit somewhat counterintuitively, with what experts say is the number one determining factor in how people will vote: party affiliation. These women are fighting for the integrity of the Republican party.

However, with the first female presidential nominee facing off against a Republican candidate who has been accused of misogyny throughout his campaign, gender appears poised to factor more prominently into this presidential race than it has in the past.

“Women want to be respected by their candidate, and comments that he’s made both historically and in this race turn them off and raise skepticism that he will represent their interests when and if he’s in office,” says Kelly Dittmar, a scholar at the Center for American Women and Politics, in an interview with The Christian Science Monitor.

“It’s influential in their evaluations of him," she says, "but will that dislike of him translate into not voting for him or voting for Hillary Clinton?”

Professor Dittmar, who teaches political science at Rutgers University-Camden, emphasizes that in every election a small percentage of partisans will "switch allegiances." However, she notes that rallying an enthusiastic female voter turnout could be a challenge for Mr. Trump come November.

According to a recent Fox News poll, Trump trails former Secretary of State Clinton by 19 points among female voters. Numerous polls this spring found roughly 70 percent of women did not have a favorable view of him. 

A laundry list of Trump-instigated situations contribute to this, as the Monitor’s Story Hinckley summarized in an April article:

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. 

Michele Swers, a government professor at Georgetown University, tells the Monitor that Trump's gender-biased comments are “rare, certainly at the presidential level."

She adds that "It’s rare that you can say these things and not have more problems,” pointing to past political moments when off-color comments ended campaigns.

While she agrees that “party affiliations in general trump gender,” Professor Swers says that in an election where the candidate is not seen by many as representing the traditional party in the first place, it’s possible that these comments could "move Republican women who are more socially moderate towards Hillary Clinton.”

"The Republican women who might consider [Clinton] over Trump would be college-educated and suburban women who might be offended by some of his rhetoric toward women," she says.

Such women may have been outside Trump's core female constituency in the primaries: polling has shown that female Trump supporters are more likely to describe their financial situation as poor than Republican women who supported other primary candidates.

Distaste over Trump's comments was echoed at the the recent meeting of “Republican Women for Hillary.”

"It has been tough for me to come to this point where I can vote for a candidate who has been very against what I've been working for for most of my professional career," Meghan Milloy, who works at American Action Forum, a conservative think tank, told CNN. ”That being said, I can't vote for someone like Donald Trump because he's overtly racist and misogynist."

But is there more to female Republican interest in Hillary Clinton than just a distaste for Donald Trump?

Dittmar suggests that the glass-ceiling-shattering idea of a woman president could rally a small number of Republican female voters behind Clinton.

“There might be some women who dislike Trump enough and it is important enough to them to have a woman president – they see the value, symbolically, of having a woman president – that they might be willing to switch over, because of the alignment of both reasons,” she says.

Female Republicans have echoed similar ideas. In an April article in Elle Magazine, Asma Hasan, who is a Wellesley alum like Clinton, said: “I'm a woman first before I'm a Republican. And I feel like having a female president is an important goal for women. Men have had their chance for a long time, and we have to have a female. It's just time."

While men are traditionally more likely to vote Republican than women, Trump still needs the female vote. As the Atlantic recently reported, Trump has to "attract 58 percent of white women to reach a national majority." This may be why Congressional Republicans have reportedly asked Trump to soften his tone with female voters.

On the campaign trail, Trump has said that he wants to “set records with women” in terms of voter turn-out, despite a track record that had Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll, telling Politico in March: “Historically, I can’t imagine anyone having worse numbers with women.”

Trump does have a plan for appealing to women voters, he told Bill O'Reilly earlier this week.

When the Fox host confronted Trump about Clinton’s lead in the female voter polls earlier this week, Trump named said he would rack up female votes with a strong border and a strong military. 

“It’s not a terrible strategy,” says Dittmar of the Center for American Women and Politics, noting that national security does rank at the top of female Republican voters’ priorities in the polls. “But he has to get into the weeds in terms of how do you do this in policy, and simultaneously not offend women” in order to bolster enthusiasm from female Republican voters.

Meanwhile, Clinton has a clear advantage when it comes to gender. Not only do recent polls give her 51 percent of the female population’s vote, compared with Trump's 36, the majority of women for 28 years have voted Democratic. Clinton's support is particularly strong among Hispanic and African-American females, the latter of whom have been the most reliable voters in recent elections.

So while Clinton may not need female Republicans to swing her way, they certainly can't hurt. But her real challenge, says Dittmar, is to encourage “the women who are likely to vote Democratic to turn out enthusiastically,” especially “younger women who may not have supported her in the primary.”

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