Republican Women in Texas and Donald Trump: It’s Complicated

In a TribTalk piece this week looking at Donald Trump’s support in Texas as reflected in the most recent University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll, we wrote that “If Trump has a woman problem of his own making, it's not with GOP women in Texas — at least when compared to their brothers, husbands, boyfriends, and fathers.” This conclusion was based on a look at our sample of 269 GOP women, within a larger sample of 1200 registered voters. The perhaps counter-intuitive take away from that brief discussion is that their party loyalty makes Republican women one of Donald Trump’s central assets in Texas, even if there has been some attrition in their support, likely due to the pile of evidence suggesting that he has treated many women very badly, and been recorded talking about it in very crude terms.

Today brings a headline in the Texas Tribune - “Party leaders' rhetoric leaves Texas Republican women reeling” – with the blurb “Interviews with Texas Republican female consultants, lobbyists, activists and aspiring politicians reveal a common sentiment: They no longer feel welcome in their own party.”

The Tribune piece by Abby Livingston elides distinctions Republican women are making between Donald Trump and the party that has made him their standard bearer. Along the way, perhaps more interestingly, it serves as an unintentional illustration of divisions among women in the GOP coalition – particularly among the political professionals interviewed extensively for the story and the voter base of the Texas GOP.

The broader premise is not completely wrong – Trump has received less support from Texas women in most polls than did Mitt Romney in 2012 – or, for that matter, than Greg Abbott has enjoyed since 2014. Some women are no doubt reeling. However, comparing female GOP attitudes towards Trump between our June and October polls finds Trump actually faring somewhat better recently, even after his gender politics became a matter of public record and campaign fodder. In June, 60 percent of GOP women had a favorable view of their nominee, in October, 61 percent do. While this is essentially unchanged, the percentage holding an unfavorable view has actually decreased, from 37 percent in June to 28 percent in October. Male GOP views of Trump remain essentially unchanged, with 57 percent holding a positive opinion of him in both polls, and negative attitudes increasing by 6 points over the same period. While Trump’s critics and even some Republican women might find this deplorable, the GOP candidate’s standing remains strong among a majority of Republican women in Texas.

The UT/TT poll actually asked the exact question posed as the premise of the story: “Regardless of how you intend to vote in the 2016 election, do you feel like the Republican Party is welcoming to people like you?” While Democratic women surely feel more welcome by the Democratic Party (as do Democratic men) compared to their Republican counterparts, overall, 69 percent of GOP women said that they feel welcome in the Republican Party, 15 points more than GOP men.

In the wake of a new round of focus over Hillary Clinton’s emails, more recent polling has showed the race to be less tight than mid-October polling had shown, but it’s unlikely that a widening gap in Trump’s favor in Texas would dilute the results discussed above away from the candidate. If anything, the opposite is more likely: Republican women who seem as a group to have strong party identification with the GOP will continue to come home in larger numbers should there be an overall movement in Trump’s direction.

The implicit conflict between the premise of this piece and the reality of the data seems also to reflect how the traditional methods of the journalism trade are at odds with with a more systematic approach, especially in instances such as this where there is a large volume of data available that is directly relevant to the story being written. The story, based on “interviews with a dozen female consultants, lobbyists, officials and aspiring politicians,” conveyed a lot of work and thought, and vividly portrays the dilemmas posed by Trump’s candidacy and the tone of his supporters for professional, educated, Republican women. The data suggest, however, that the interview subjects are far from representative of GOP women overall. 

One might be forgiven for taking the interviewees as representative of GOP women overall – even though the story never makes this claim. Perhaps most problematically, this tact winds up reinforcing one of Donald Trump’s claims  – shared by many conservatives – that the insulation of the press and their sources from the their audience and constituents leads to distorted coverage of Trump. It’s not surprising to find that Republican political professionals in Texas who forged careers in the era of Kay Bailey Hutchison and George W. Bush (per the story) aren’t rallying to Trump’s brand of conservatism, and are justifiably aghast at recent comments from the Agriculture Commissioner and some of Texas’ Congressional delegation (not to mention Trump himself). But the majority of Republican women supporting Trump, either in the name of the party or based on his merits, are demonstrating something about their politics that will have consequences long after the presidential election is decided – and the whole story matters.