Texas Republican Women’s Support for Donald Trump Persists Even in Stormy Times

The position of Republican women in the polarized political environment in Texas is one of the lesser told – or even mischaracterized – tales of the current election cycle. To the extent that the role of women has received attention in the current context of electoral politics, the focus has inevitably landed on the #metoo and successor movements, and on the anticipated electoral backlash among women to increasingly public evidence of Donald Trump’s troubled history with females.

Much less attention has been paid to a very different, and potentially equally consequential, phenomenon when thinking about next November: the continuing support for Donald Trump among Republican women. That support coexists with Republican women’s tepid reaction to the ongoing attention to both everyday and high-profile cases of sexual harassment and violence. The gender politics triggered by Trump’s record with at least some of the women he encountered on the road from celebrity to the White House didn’t prevent millions of women from doing their part to vote him into office. And evidence from Texas offers little indication that the often explosive gender politics in the wake of Trump’s election have altered the fundamentals of Trump’s wellspring of support among Republican women.

In Texas, as elsewhere, the publicity surrounding sexual harassment and Trump’s admitted and imputed behavior have generated expectations in the political domain that have not been borne out by either the outcome of the 2016 election or continuing characteristics of public opinion.  The result of the failure of a surge of party-switching women voting for Hillary Clinton is now apparent. So far in the 2018 campaign, a counter reaction among women to Trump’s behavior in light of the related increase in attention to sexual harassment are being cited as driving the increase in the number of female candidates on the Democratic ballot, and in turn, expectations of a ‘pink wave’ come November. Presumably, this means an uptick in participation writ large, and especially among women, that will shape mid-term election outcomes to the advantage of Democrats.

But in evaluating the currents of public opinion likely to shape the upcoming general election in light of the impact of both Trump and gender politics on the statewide elections in Texas, we need to explicitly assess the attitudes of a group who represented a linchpin of Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton in Texas in 2016: Republican women.

Republican women’s loyalty to Trump, at least given the choices at hand, was evident in Texas on the eve of the election. Asked in the October of 2016 University of Texas / Texas Tribune Poll who they intended to vote for in November, 85 percent of Republican women expressed support for Trump, slightly more than the 81 percent of Republican men (among likely voters). Likewise, Trump’s favorability among GOP women slightly outpaced that of their male counterparts, at 61 percent, compared to 57 percent. GOP women were also more likely to say that Trump would make a “great” or “good” president than Republican men (58 percent to 47 percent). Almost three quarters of GOP women (71 percent) said at the time that he had the temperament to serve effectively as president (7 points more than GOP men), and equal shares of GOP women and men endorsed the belief that Donald Trump was honest and trustworthy.

For those who might blame the polling for the conclusion this points to, exit polls on election day showed 89 percent of GOP women and 86 percent of GOP men voting for Trump. Clinton won 49 percent of Texas women’s votes, essentially unchanged from Obama’s 47 percent in 2008 (there was no exit polling in Texas in 2012). 

So not only did GOP women not abandon Trump in the voting booth, as some predicted, but in most instances, their underlying support for the future president slightly outpaced that of Republican men.

In the second year of the Trump presidency, gender politics continue to swirl around Trump himself, as the Stormy Daniels, Karen McDougal, and Summer Zervos relationships remain in the headlines. Yet the expectations that GOP women might abandon Trump have not been any more fulfilled by post-election polling than they were in 2016.  

Donald Trump Job Approval (Feb. 2018 University of Texas / Texas Tribune Poll)
  Approve Disapprove
Overall 46% 47%
Democrats 7% 84%
Democratic Men 9% 84%
Democratic Women 6% 85%
Republicans 83% 12%
Republican Men 87% 8%
Republican Women 79% 15%

His support among Republican women has dropped marginally, but is far short of signs of desertion. As of the February 2018 UT/TT poll, Trump’s job approval sat at 79 percent among GOP women (finally trailing GOP men’s stout 87 percent approval). There was a statistically indistinguishable decline in the share who think he has the temperament to serve effectively as president (down from 71 percent to 69 percent). In addition to these evaluations, 69 percent of GOP women say that Trump is honest and trustworthy, 78 percent say that he is competent, 81 percent say that he is knowledgeable, 81 percent say that he is a strong leader, and maybe most to the point: 72 percent say that he cares about people like them.

Percent agreeing with the statement, "Do you think Donald Trump..." (Feb. 2018 University of Texas / Texas Tribune Poll)
  Overall Democrats Democratic Men Democratic Women Republicans Republican Men  Republican Women
...has the temperament to serve effectively as president? 40% 7% 10% 6% 71% 72% 69%
...is honest and trustworthy? 38% 6% 9% 5% 71% 73% 69%
...is competent? 48% 13% 14% 13% 83% 87% 78%
...cares about people like you? 40% 6% 8% 4% 76% 80% 72%
...is a strong leader? 48% 12% 15% 10% 83% 84% 81%
...is knowledgeable? 48% 13% 14% 12% 83% 84% 81%

While it’s easy to dismiss the above results as nothing more than the effects of polarized partisanship, polling on Republican women’s attitudes toward the myriad issues related to the firestorm around sexual harassment and sexual violence toward women reveals that there is little foundation for the notion that these issues might activate views in Republican women that would lead them to punish Trump in the midterms. 

In that same February 2018 UT/TT poll, a large battery of items were asked to assess Texans’ attitudes towards the #metoo movement, as well as the broader discussion around sexual harassment and violence. Overall, a plurality of Republican women (44 percent) held a negative view of the #metoo movement, with only 17 percent holding a positive view (compared to 15 percent of Republican men). 

#MeToo Movement Favorability (February 2018 University of Texas / Texas Tribune Poll)
  Favorable Unfavorable Neither / Don't know
Overall 38% 30% 32%
Democrats 66% 8% 26%
Democratic Men 67% 7% 25%
Democratic Women 65% 8% 27%
Republicans 16% 51% 33%
Republican Men 15% 58% 27%
Republican Women 17% 44% 38%

To make sure these results are placed in the appropriate context, these numbers provide evidence of some disquiet among GOP women, or at least suspended judgment, that is largely absent among Republican men. Whereas 36 percent of Republican women withheld judgement of the movement (or were unfamiliar with it), 27 percent of men were similarly reserved – and 58 percent disapproved.

Republican men’s comparative lack of ambiguity notwithstanding, a majority of Republican women disagreed with the proposition that the attention to sexual violence and harassment would help address the issue of gender inequality (53 percent), and a plurality disagreed that it would improve the lives of most women (48 percent). Perhaps most surprisingly, a plurality of Republican women (48 percent) agreed that attention to sexual harassment and assault was leading to the unfair treatment of men. 

Percent agreeing with the statement, "The recent attention paid to the sexual harassment and assault of women in America..." (Feb. 2018 University of Texas / Texas Tribune Poll)
  Overall Democrats Democratic Men Democratic Women Republicans Republican Men Republican Women
...is helping to address the issue of gender inequality. 53% 79% 85% 75% 32% 29% 36%
...is going to improve the lives of most women. 52% 71% 73% 69% 36% 36% 37%
...is leading to the unfair treatment of men. 44% 23% 30% 18% 61% 72% 48%

These attitudes among Republican women are less lopsided than their support for Trump –  plenty of Republican women hold positive attitudes of the #metoo movement and express more hopeful views about its likely impact. But there is no evidence of a consensus among these views, and no indication that the public attention to issues of sexual misconduct have resulted in a shift in political consciousness among women sufficient to cause mass partisan changes, or enough to abandon the GOP’s presidential figurehead. Closer to home, there is nothing to suggest a likely partisan shift among women that would provide a fast track to a Democratic governing majority in Texas. GOP women show every sign of remaining at home in the party of Trump.