Commentary: Gender gap dooms Trump

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Supporters react as they greet with Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump during a rally Thursday, June 2, 2016, in San Jose, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

By Karen Beckwith

As the 2016 campaign unfolds, the continuing story is that women and gender will play major roles in the presidential election. This story does not predict a happy ending for the presumptive Republican nominee.

There are more women in the U.S. electorate than there are men, giving women a numerical advantage in elections, and women have turned out to vote at a higher rate than men have since 1980. By 2014, women constituted 52 of the electorate, with 43 percent turnout (compared with men at 48 percent of the electorate, with 41 percent turnout). With a six million-voter advantage, women constitute a potentially powerful group.

Women are not a uniform group, however, and their double advantage of presence and turnout could be expected to fragment by social class, ethnicity, and race. Except it doesn't. A greater numerical presence and higher turnout are reflected in every race and ethnic group for which data are available. Since 1984, white women and black women have out-voted their male counterparts; Latinas have turned out at a higher level than Latinos; and, since 2000, Asian American women have voted in greater numbers than their brothers. Across major racial and ethnic groups, there is a substantial gender gap in turnout.

And that gap has been increasing. Especially among women of color, 2008 saw record turnout, and higher turnout, than among their male counterparts. And in 2012, "black women voted at a higher rate than any other group - across gender, race, and ethnicity," according to the Center for American Progress. Women of color are also concentrated in high numbers in several states, primarily in the Sun Belt and in the South, and are part of the minority-majority electoral reality of California, Hawaii, New Mexico, and Texas.

The combination of presence and turnout, driven by the increasing presence of women of color, would be meaningless in the absence of political preference differences between women and men - but such differences exist. In general, women are more likely than men to prefer Democratic presidential candidates.

The combination of a gender gap in direction - with women having one set of political preferences and men another - and a gap of substantial magnitude makes women a powerful group of voters with a specific preference for Democrats. Since 1996, women have given a majority of their votes to the Democratic presidential candidate. According to data from the Center for American Women and Politics, in 1996, 2000, 2004, and 2012, the gender gap in vote choice was at least 10 percentage points, and women and men differed in preferences, with women giving a majority of their votes to the Democratic candidate in each case and men giving at least a plurality of their votes to the Republican candidate. It's difficult, if not impossible, to win a presidential election without a majority of women's votes.

The gender gap is the foundation for the 2016 presidential election. It is so consequential that scholars and media commentators alike are suggesting that the presumed GOP nominee has already lost the election because of his "women problem."

Exit poll data reveal that in no major state or possible swing state has Donald Trump won more support from women than he has won from men; wherever a gender gap exists, it has not favored Trump. Indeed, exit poll data show several major states where the Republican candidate has a gender gap greater than 5 percentage points. Two states - Florida and Georgia - showed double-digit gender gaps against the candidate in their presidential primaries. Trump came in first place in the Republican primaries in these states, but he didn't win the majority of the vote in either, with a substantial lack of support from women. And Trump lost the Ohio primary with a 7-percentage-point gender gap.

A Republican nominee who cannot attract the support of women in his own party primaries is not likely to have a more positive experience in the general election - and he certainly won't be able to win a swing state like Ohio.

Although the gender gap in terms of voter preference might be exaggerated in the general election by strong voter preferences among men, the "men's vote" is more fragmented by race and ethnicity than the women's vote is. Although white men have moved over time into the Republican Party, Latinos and black men have stayed allied with the Democrats.

In short, women voters will be crucial for the winner of the presidential election (and down-ticket as well). There are more women than men in the eligible electorate; women turn out at higher rates than men do across all racial and ethnic groups; and women are more likely than men to support Democratic candidates. Women of color have a particularly strong preference for Democratic candidates. Women's presence and turnout creates an electoral gender gap of direction and magnitude that will provide a base for the Democratic presidential candidate with which the Republican candidate will have to contend.

A presidential nominee who cannot win the votes of women will find it difficult to win the presidency.

Karen Beckwith is the Flora Stone Mather professor and chair of the department of political science at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. karen.beckwith@case.edu