Trump campaign targets women voters amid warning signs

Michael Wilner and Francesca Chambers
McClatchy Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON – Republican campaign officials are deploying targeted marketing techniques to identify where undecided female voters will have the greatest impact in the 2020 election, amid warning signs that parts of the crucial bloc are abandoning the president.

President Donald Trump carried non-college-educated white women — 20% of all voters in presidential election years — by 27 points in 2016. But the group shifted by 13 points in the 2018 midterm elections, and in recent months warmed to the prospect of impeaching and removing Trump from office over his efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate a domestic political rival.

The Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee are responding with an aggressive organizational effort to shore up these voters.

“We’ve talked a lot about how we’re a data-driven campaign,” said Hannah Castillo, director of coalitions for the Trump campaign. “We are all over the country where we’re doing these events.”

The campaign launched its Women for Trump group last year and says it has attracted 30,000 members ever since. Out of all of its “coalition” events targeting individual subgroups — including veterans, Latinos, evangelical Christians and African Americans — 63% have been held for women voters.

But it is unclear whether the campaign is making progress, as polls show growing disapproval of Trump among white working class women and suburban women — two critical subgroups in the upcoming general election.

“The share of the white working class in the industrial states are where we need to look to see if we’re going to have major, consequential gaps going forward,” said Karlyn Bowman, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and an expert on American public opinion. “It’s clear that something’s happening, that there’s a division.”

Hoping to engage women: The RNC is planning a host of “Women Empowerment Days” in various states throughout the country, hoping to engage wider networks of female voters.

The Trump campaign and RNC are both using “Designated Market Area” research — often used in advertising to target consumers based on geographical metadata — to identify undecided communities.

“When we have a Women for Trump event, it’s obviously in substantial turf for target DMA where we see women can be impactful in those target states,” a campaign official said.

Democratic super PAC Priorities USA released polling this fall that found Trump “under water” in key battleground states with white women – and specifically with white non-college-educated women, of which 45% approved of his job performance, while 55% disapproved.

“His overall numbers have been stable – low, but stable. But within these groups, there’s been some movement,” said Mark Mellman, a Democratic pollster and CEO of the Mellman Group. “There is no question that women are much more hostile to this president than men – there’s no question that college-educated women are particularly hostile. But there’s been movement among non-college-educated women, as well. He’s suffered some meaningful defections from his high points.”

Campaign optimistic: Trump campaign officials look at the entirety of the women vote and express optimism.

“We hear a lot about women, women, women,” said a second senior campaign official.

Drawing on polling from NBC and The Wall Street Journal, the official compared Trump’s current approval among women, 37% nationally, to exit polling in 2016, in which 41% of women supported the president.

That difference, within the average margin of polling error, has given the campaign a “quiet confidence” its numbers have remained consistent — despite signs that suggest Trump faces growing problems among white working class women, a pillar of his political base.

Lara Trump, the president’s daughter-in-law and senior adviser, said the Women for Trump group is based on a loose concept from 2016.

“After the president was inaugurated and we had time to really focus on getting things set up the right way for this campaign, something we talked about was very early on rolling out our coalitions, so that we could do things the right way this time,” she said.

Campaign contributions: She said half of the campaign’s donations come from women. The number cannot be independently checked because the campaign is not required to disclose donors who give under $200 and it does not voluntarily provide itemized information for many of those supporters to the Federal Election Commission.

At the end of September, the time of the last available donation tally, the Center for Responsive Politics found that women who gave more than $200 provided 34.7% of Trump’s campaign cash. They accounted for 43.9% of recorded donors.

The president’s campaign team says it is investing the money in states like New Hampshire and Minnesota that Trump barely lost in his first election. The outreach to women is in line with their goal to win those close contests in 2020.

That strategy was aimed at winning states he lost in 2016, rather than worries about losing women voters. “I don’t know that it’s that we’re concerned about women,” Lara Trump told McClatchy in an interview.

“Of course, strategically we’re targeting areas that we know we have to win,” she said.

Important issues: In their research, the campaign and RNC have identified the economy and health care as motivating policy issues for women voters who support Trump. Education also tops the list.

Lanae Erickson, senior vice president for social policy and politics at the left-aligned Third Way, said the think tank’s battleground state polling also reflects education, the economy and health care as top priorities. She said congressional Democrats who beat their Republican opponents in the midterm elections with the help of women focused on baseline economic issues.

Based on the president’s approval rating among women, “It’s hard to picture any woman who didn’t vote for Donald Trump the first time voting for him,” Erickson said.

“He’s not picking up any new female voters,” she said. “Spending a lot of money to shore women up shows that they know that and they’re trying to hold the ones they got the first time.”

Erickson added, “But I just think that Trump is not doing anything to appeal to swing women at this point, he’s just trying not to hemorrhage as many as possible.”