McClatchy DC: Trump’s data operation is targeting women voters amid warning signs
By Michael Wilner and Francesca Chambers
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.”
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.”
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 advisor, 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.
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 Elections 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.
Jessie Jane Duff, a Women for Trump advisory board member, said many of the events she attends on behalf of the group are at the invitation of organizations not directly affiliated with the campaign.
“It’s like all of these coalitions, that we’re demonstrating that there are active voices out there that are supporting this president from every demographic group, because the left have labeled us as a bunch of ignorant white people,” she said. “That’s not a label that any campaign or president should be just sitting there and ignoring.”
Duff and other women supporters of Trump who spoke to McClatchy said they believed that some people who might publicly say they don’t support Trump, vote for him at the ballot box.
Amy Kremer, a conservative activist who runs a political action committee aimed at increasing support from women for Trump, told McClatchy that women frequently show their support for the president in subtle ways such as a thumbs up when she’s traveling in pro-Trump gear.
“Do you know how many people tell me pollsters call their house and they lie to them, because they don’t want people to know how much they love Donald Trump?” she said.
Kremer said the women are “afraid of the backlash” they would receive for backing Trump publicly. She said she expects women who backed Trump in 2016 to vote for him again in 2020. She identified the economy and health care as the two issues most important to women.
In their research, the campaign and RNC have also identified those 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.”
Specific reforms that have found an advocate in the president’s daughter and senior adviser, Ivanka Trump, provide the campaign with some identifiable policy victories. The administration supported a provision of this year’s National Defense Authorization Act that included paid family leave for federal workers.
“President Trump is delivering on his promises with his policies benefiting women across the country,” Allie Carroll, the RNC’s assistant national press secretary, said. “With near record-low unemployment for women, paid family leave for federal workers, and a doubling of the child tax credit, women are winning across America and they will play a crucial role in ensuring that the success of the Trump administration continues for four more years.”
Christina Reynolds, vice president of communications at EMILY’s List, a groups that supports female candidates who back abortion rights, said that Democratic candidates tend to hold positions that are more in line with women’s views on the issues that turn out voters.
Reynolds said that Trump’s advertising may not mention issues that will deter women from voting for him, “So it will be our job to go out, offer our own agenda and to point out where they’re getting it wrong.”