According to pro-Hillary Democrats, the best way for Clinton to appeal to women is to let presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump talk. In their 2016 election model, women will both be repelled by what they see as Trump’s brusque misogyny, and attracted to the chance to cast a historic vote for the first woman president. They point to the fact that even as Clinton struggles to vanquish dogged Democratic challenger Bernie Sanders, she almost always wins women’s primary votes.
The May 10 Quinnipiac poll in the battleground states of Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania does show a distinct gender gap between Clinton and Trump. However, the gap has two sides. Whatever advantage Clinton has among women is balanced out by Trump’s overwhelming strength among men. In Florida, both had respective gender gaps of 13 percentage points. In Pennsylvania, Clinton had an impressive 19 percentage point advantage in the female vote, but Trump more than matched that with a 21 percentage point male edge. And in Ohio, where Trump led by 15 points among men, Clinton only managed a seven percentage point advantage among women. This translated into a four percentage point Trump margin in the state as a whole.
Superficially it might seem like Mars balances Venus and the results are a wash. But dig further into the data, and it turns out that Clinton’s apparent solid backing from women is bolstered by overwhelming support from minority females. White women are not so ready for Hillary.
In Pennsylvania, where Clinton leads by 19 percentage points among all women, she leads only by six percentage points among those who are white. In Florida, her 13 point edge vanishes completely; Trump leads her there among non-minority women by three percentage points. And in Ohio, where Clinton was up by seven points among all women, Trump won the poll among white women by the same margin.
The difference in preferences among non-minority women is not based on likeability since both candidates have comparable favorability ratings within that group. Clinton is also competitive with Trump on questions of intelligence, temperament and leadership. Former Pennsylvania Democratic governor Ed Rendell raised some groans when he speculated that Clinton benefits from a glamour gap based on Trump’s supposedly insensitive comments about feminine beauty because, as he said, “there are probably more ugly women in America than attractive women.” Rendell later said he apologized for his own insensitive comment “if (he) offended anyone.” If?
The most important distinguishing factor is not likeability but issues. Regarding the challenge of handling terrorism, Clinton leads in all three battleground states among women as a whole, but trails in Florida and Ohio among non-minority women. When it comes to the economy, Clinton leads among all women in Pennsylvania but only ties in the other two states. Among white women, she is down five points in Pennsylvania, 16 in Ohio and 17 in Florida. These numbers do not add up to an easy gender-based Clinton win, but could point to a Trump victory strategy.
POLICING THE USA: A look at race, justice, media
These polls seem to indicate that racial dynamics are a much more important factor than gender in the 2016 election. This is nothing new; in 2012 Barack Obama lost the white women’s vote to Mitt Romney by 14 percentage points. As well, the data show that how the candidates handle the issues will play a more important role in voter preference than perceptions of trust or favorability ratings. This trumps the identity politics notion that a majority of women reflexively favor Clinton simply because she is one of them, or will vote against Trump because he is an insensitive lout.
Even in the politically polarized climate of 2016, there is room for issue-oriented rational voters to tip the balance. For Clinton, an easy ambush at gender gap is no sure thing.
James S. Robbins writes weekly for USA Today and is author of Native Americans: Patriotism, Exceptionalism, and the New American Identity.
In addition to its own editorials, USA TODAY publishes diverse opinions from outside writers, including our Board of Contributors. To read more columns, go to the Opinion front page and follow us on Twitter @USATOpinion.