US midterm elections: Stung by womens' uprising, men scramble to seek refuge in Donald Trump's party

What gender gap?

Two prominent data patterns have emerged in the run up to the November midterms in the United States - men are sticking with the Republican party and women are leaning Democratic at a higher rate than men do. The latter is no surprise, that pattern has held for decades; the first one is more striking and has roots in a perceived or real threat to white/ male dominance, says exciting new research informed by the debris left behind by the 2016 US elections.

File image of US president Donald Trump. Reuters

File image of US president Donald Trump. Reuters

The 2018 midterm elections, featuring hundreds of congressional, state and local elections, end on 6 November to decide whether Democrats can gain control of Congress or Republicans maintain their power on the legislative branch. These midterm elections will take place in the middle of Republican President Donald Trump's first term. All 435 seats in the United States House of Representatives and 35 of the 100 seats in the US Senate will be contested. Depending on how well Democrats do, they could potentially halt or kill off the Republican legislative agenda in Congress and get a little more power to block Trump’s nominees from being confirmed.

A YouGov survey has found male voters prefer a Republican candidate by 9 percentage points, while female voters preferred a Democratic candidate by 15 points. This 24-point gap has never been breached; it was the same total gap in the 2016 US elections - with women voting for Hillary Clinton by 13 percentage points, and men for Trump by 11 points. An average of generic-ballot polls also shows a similar trend line - a gender gap of 16 points.

Women voting Democratic at a high rate is not new; men sticking with the Republican Party is more striking in an election year. The gender gap headline in American politics today speaks to both the trends but it’s not like everyone’s clear about their choices either.

“I really don’t know…I wanted Bernie (Sanders) to be the 2016 candidate but we got Hillary. I voted for her but half heartedly…I think a lot of people did that and that’s why we lost. Just voting Democratic alone doesn’t help, it’s how enthusiastic we are and how many of us turn up”, says Michelle, a New Yorker on her way to a family weekend in Delaware when we meet her on a train.

Michelle votes Democratic; she says she’s unlikely to ever flip. But what about Republican women voters - what’s going on with them? They’re moving away while the men are hanging in there and in the bargain preventing the party from tipping over, reports The Economist.

Status threat of losing their white dominance, explains Diana Mutz, of the University of Pennsylvania, is what’s keeping the men strongly Republican - not economic insecurity or any of the incremental firestorms that are raging on and on in American politics over the last 18 months.

That ‘status threat’ has two approaches - one is the threat whites feel from non whites and the other is the percieved or real threat from women leading voluble #MeToo-related movements in society and at work.

Related to that is how established social norms guide voting preferences. A report by American National Election Studies - a joint venture between Stanford and Michigan Universities - found that those who believe life was a lot better when men worked and women stayed home tend to vote Republican.

“There’s so much out there about trends but as far as I’m concerned, if Democrats are going to keep giving us the same old choices, it’s not going to work”, says Michelle.

How does she feel about Trump? “He’s certainly made us more aware of our racial affinity”, she says and then goes on to explain why she, a white American woman, has coloured her dark hair blond: “It helps me fit in when I’m in large white groups, especially where my relatives live in the deep South. Looking at me, they can’t tell if I’m their camp or the other. I’m politically active and it’s important for me to know what’s really going on. The polls are a bunch of _____”, says Michelle.

So, what’s she hearing there?

“The economy is booming, they all have jobs, they’ve always resented outsiders in their neighbourhood they feel they have a powerful voice in the White House who feels the same way. They’re voting Republican both in the mid terms and 2020.”

That trend has broadly held since the late 1990s. Today, Trump’s party enjoys a 16-percentage-point advantage among rural voters. Trump’s often over the top and arguably racist stuff about immigrants has been anything but politically dangerous for him; it won him the White House and Michelle’s relatives in Alabama are comfortable in that zone. Nothing’s changed.

Younger voters, though, have generally favoured Democrats in midterms and are staying firm. Compared with previous midterm years, like say, 2014, millennial registered voters support Democrat by a wider margin than in the past.

“That sounds good but it won’t work for 2020 if they churn out the same old candiates”, says Michelle, herself a millennial who went through school in the years after the 2008 financial crash.

What will she do if the Democrats don’t come up with anyone other than a Joe Biden or Kamala Harris for the 2020 run?

“Kamala Harris - I don’t know if that choice will work beyond California…Joe Biden’s great but can’t they find anybody else? If this is all they’ve got, I’ll stay out…I’m not voting. There’s no point”, she says before getting off the train at Delaware.

Michelle’s is the kind of answer polls don’t capture very well - what happens to voter preferences in the absence of rockstar candidates?

On balance, men sticking with the Republican party has less to do with who’s on the ticket and more about keeping the white herd together; it’s less susceptible to personality and more about a deeper gnawing in society itself. With more women running for public office in 2018, it’s entirely possible that the status threat Mutz talks about may only get stronger.

Voters who identify Republican — and we spoke to several — tend to agree: “Women have taken the #MeToo movement too far. They’ve brought it to the workplace and it’s going to bite back in the political sphere. It’s all good for Trump”.


Updated Date: Aug 13, 2018 20:12 PM

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