The 2018 midterms have attracted a record number of women running for Congress, which, according to conventional wisdom, is energizing the base of the Democratic Party. New polling data from Republican pollster John McLaughlin, however, challenges the narrative that gender is a compelling reason to vote for someone: Nearly 85 percent of the respondents said gender “made no difference” in whom they are going to support in this year’s elections.
“This election is not about gender, it’s about what’s happening with working-class voters – both men and women,” said McLaughlin, who conducted the survey for Independent Women’s Voice — an advocacy arm of the Independent Women's Forum — and who did polling for Donald Trump in 2016. “… Republicans need a specific agenda which contrasts their ideas to the Democrats.” He added that the GOP can do better with women voters by highlighting “ideas on health care and what will benefit their personal finances and family.”
“Party and ideas usually trump gender,” said Karlyn Bowman, a public opinion analyst at the American Enterprise Institute. She added that women are over the idea of simply voting for someone because the candidate is a woman: “We’re passed this. What it comes down to is someone’s credentials, how they present themselves, and what they want to do in Washington.”
One demographic already demonstrated this in 2016. That’s when 52 percent of white women voted for Donald Trump instead of the first major-party woman running for president, according to exit poll data.
“While much has been written about women running for Congress in 2018, it is encouraging that the American voter is rejecting identity politics,” said Tammy Bruce, president of Independent Women’s Voice.
Only 16 percent of the respondents in the IWF survey say they consider gender when voting, and most of that group consisted of Democratic women. In a June NBC/WSJ poll, voters were asked a similar question, and only 24 percent said they were more likely to support a candidate because she is a woman.
Since 1980, there’s been a noticeable gender gap in voting, with more women supporting the Democratic Party presidential candidate and more men voting Republican. However, there was also a substantial marriage gap in 2016, with married voters supporting Trump by eight percentage points over Clinton. But married women narrowly supported Hillary Clinton by two points over Trump. Democrats want that history to repeat itself this year, aided by the presence of so many women on the ballot.
According to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, 307 women candidates are currently running for the U.S. House, 228 of whom are Democrats and 79 are Republicans. Of the 36 women currently running for the Senate, 21 are Democrats and 15 are Republicans.
Many of the women who have won Democratic primaries thus far defeated moderate candidates as the party moves to the left. In Omaha, Neb., for example, Republican Rep. Don Bacon is matched up against progressive Democrat Kara Eastman — who defeated a moderate opponent who lost to Bacon in 2016 by just 3,500 votes. In Orange County, Calif., Rep. Mimi Walters (pictured) is running against Katie Porter, who has been dubbed “the Elizabeth Warren of the West”; Porter defeated a moderate candidate in a primary.
The IWF poll of 1,000 likely voters, conducted July 18-24, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.