Four years later, it’s hard not to feel an unnerving sense of déjà vu. Once again, the polls show a potentially historic gender gap in the presidential election. Journalists are reporting on all the women Trump has turned off. Last I checked, FiveThirtyEight gave Trump a 13 percent chance of victory, almost exactly the same odds he had three weeks before the election in 2016. For America to survive as a liberal democracy, this time has to be different. Is it?
Longwell, who has conducted around 50 focus groups over the last three years, most of them with women, believes it is. “I have seen these people moving away in real time,” she says of the participants’ relationship to Trump. And “it dropped off a cliff right around Covid, plus economic downturn, plus George Floyd.”
As Longwell tells it, there were some Trump voters who turned on him almost immediately after the election, but many others who continued to support him despite disliking him personally. “They said he was a narcissist, said he was a bully, but they also don’t like Democrats, don’t like the media, don’t trust anything, and they were hanging in,” she said.
Then Trump’s incompetence came home. “Once the pandemic hit, once there were personal consequences for their lives, there was an absolute shift in how people talked about Donald Trump,” said Longwell.
She started hearing “a ton of pain” in the focus groups. Cancer survivors with suppressed immune systems feared leaving the house because people in their community wouldn’t wear masks. “Or they’ve got young kids that aren’t in school, or somebody in their family is furloughed, or they couldn’t go see their parent who died,” she said.
Women’s job losses due to Covid have been enormously disproportionate; in September alone, around 617,000 women 16 and over left the work force, nearly eight times the number of men. They’ve borne the brunt of closed schools. As Jessica Grose recently reported in The New York Times, the Pandemic Parenting Study, which is tracking over 100 Indiana mothers, has found growing marital strife over child care.
“Mothers blame themselves for these conflicts and feel responsible for reducing them, including by leaving the work force, beginning use of antidepressants, or ignoring their own concerns about Covid-19,” said a recent paper drawing on the study’s data. None of this can be separated from the collapse in women’s support for Trump.