Even after last week’s extensive public hearings, the American public remains split on impeaching President Trump, with 50 percent in support of the process and 43 percent against it.
But some groups of Americans are a lot more supportive of impeachment than others. In a CNN poll released Tuesday, a full 61 percent of women were in favor of impeaching Trump while 34 percent were against it. Among men, by contrast, just 40 percent support impeachment and 53 percent oppose it.
The gender gap also shows up in Trump’s approval ratings: 52 percent of men approve of how the president is doing compared with 32 percent of women, according to the CNN poll.
One big factor at work in the gender divide is party identification. Women are more likely than men to be Democrats, and “one of the strongest drivers of support for impeachment is partisanship,” Kelly Dittmar, an assistant professor of political science and scholar at the Center for American Women and Politics, told Vox. In the CNN poll, 90 percent of Democrats supported impeachment compared with just 10 percent of Republicans.
But party may not be the only factor driving the gender gap. Some argue that female voters, more so than men, are responding to the fact that Trump has been accused not just of a quid pro quo with Ukraine but also of sexually assaulting, harassing, or otherwise violating more than 20 women. Those allegations aren’t part of the impeachment inquiry, but Trump is facing two ongoing lawsuits in connection with them, and they’re likely to remain in the public eye through 2020.
It’s not yet clear from polling how much women’s dislike of Trump goes beyond their party identification or how much has to do with the allegations against him. But as the next election approaches — with female voters poised to play a deciding role — the answer to those questions will matter.
There’s a 20-point gender gap in support for impeachment
The CNN poll, conducted for the network by research firm SSRS between November 21 and 24 with a sample size of 1,007 Americans, found that support for impeachment among Americans in general has not changed since October, before the House held public hearings on the subject. Fifty percent of Americans supported impeachment in the November poll, the same share who supported it in a similar CNN poll conducted from October 17-20.
Among women, however, the numbers are much higher and growing, with 61 percent now supporting impeachment compared with 56 percent in October and 51 percent in May. By contrast, a majority of men — 53 percent — still oppose impeachment.
The simplest explanation for the gender gap is party, according to Dittmar: “What we know drives gender differences in politics is also gender differences in party identification.” According to a 2018 study by the Pew Research Center, 56 percent of women are Democrats or lean Democratic, compared with 44 percent of men.
But party may not be the whole story. Responding to the CNN poll, former prosecutor and NBC legal analyst Mimi Rocah tweeted, “When a serial abuser & criminal sits unchecked in the White House, women see the threat.”
She was presumably referring to the more than 20 sexual misconduct allegations against the president. Trump has denied the allegations against him and said the women who came forward were liars. Two of those women, restaurant owner Summer Zervos and author E. Jean Carroll, have filed defamation suits against Trump. The Zervos suit is currently in discovery, with phone records recently released showing that Trump called Zervos on the day she says he sexually assaulted her.
A number of sexual misconduct allegations came out against Trump after the Access Hollywood tape was released in October 2016, showing Trump bragging about his ability to grab women “by the pussy.” In polling at the time, “women were particularly responsive” to the allegations, Dittmar said, and some speculated that Republican women might abandon Trump over the news. A prominent Evangelical speaker, Beth Moore, even came out against Trump in the wake of the tape, as Lyz Lenz reported at Marie Claire at the time.
I'm one among many women sexually abused, misused, stared down, heckled, talked naughty to. Like we liked it. We didn't. We're tired of it.— Beth Moore (@BethMooreLPM) October 9, 2016
But then came James Comey’s letter regarding Hillary Clinton’s emails, and Trump, obviously, ended up winning the election — with, famously, 53 percent of white female voters supporting him.
For many of those voters, party was likely just as important than gender. And in more recent polling, Republican women have continued to support Trump at about the same level as Republican men: 85 percent of Republican women approve of how the president is doing compared with 86 percent of Republican men, according to recent data from Morning Consult.
But those numbers don’t necessarily tell the whole story. They don’t capture, for instance, women who may have left the Republican Party over the nomination and presidency of Trump. “Are there women who don’t identify as Republican in part because of what’s been happening” in the party and in the White House, Dittmar asks. That’s “part of the gender story that we just might not be capturing.”
The question is important in part because Trump’s demeaning comments about women didn’t end when he took office. Since then, he’s mocked Christine Blasey Ford for her testimony that Brett Kavanaugh, now a Supreme Court Justice, sexually assaulted her when the two were in high school. More recently, after Carroll said that Trump had sexually assaulted her in the 1990s, the president responded that she was “not my type” and claimed never to have met her — even though her New York magazine story about the encounter included a photo of the two together.
Comments like this don’t have anything to do with the current Ukraine inquiry. But as Megan Garber points out at the Atlantic, the sexual misconduct allegations hang over that inquiry, raising the question of why they haven’t merited the same official response.
There’s no reason, of course, why male voters can’t care about sexual misconduct allegations, too. In fact, there’s evidence that they do, with 70 percent of Democratic men saying in a recent poll that the Kavanaugh hearings made them think about men having more power in government. But female voters may react even more strongly: 83 percent of Democratic women in the poll said the Kavanaugh episode made them think about gender and power in government.
And so it’s entirely possible that women, perhaps in both parties, are looking at the impeachment hearings and thinking about the many women who have come forward over the years to say Trump violated them, and the fact that he still holds the highest office in our country — for now.
The gender gap could be important information for 2020
In today’s political environment, polls about impeachment are never just about impeachment. They’re also about how Trump, the Republicans, and the Democrats will fare in 2020.
And the latest numbers on the gender gap offer a couple of clues. For one, Dittmar said, they send a signal to Democrats that women in general are squarely behind impeachment.
That’s especially important to future Democratic candidates because female voters outnumber men and are more likely to turn out, Dittmar said. Their votes are particularly important to Democrats.
“If you’re a Democrat, women are effectively your base,” Dittmar said — especially black women, who voted for Democrats in overwhelming majorities in 2016 and 2018. So for Democrats, the poll numbers are a sign that among one key voting bloc, at least, there’s little political cost to proceeding with impeachment.
More broadly, women’s support for impeachment is yet more evidence that female voters strongly dislike Trump, and that this could drive turnout in 2020. For Democratic women, Dittmar said, “this is probably going to continue to mobilize them to come out and play a significant role” in that election.
The big remaining question, though, is what Trump’s presidency has meant and will mean for Republican women — or women who used to be Republican but now “feel like they don’t have a home,” in Dittmar’s words, after the 2016 election. Will dislike for Trump motivate them to turn out in 2020? And will they vote for the Democrat, whoever that may be?
The polling on impeachment can’t answer these questions. But if Democrats want to win in 2020 — especially in states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, where the votes of non-college-educated white women were enough to hand victory to Trump — they probably need to be asking them.