How Biden will win women

“Women put Joe in the White House four years ago,” Jill Biden argued recently, “and women will do it again.” Her first statement is undeniably true. The second remains to be seen. But if Jill’s husband, Joe, does win a second term, women will be the reason.

In the latest New York Times/Siena poll, Donald Trump leads Biden by 1 point, 46% to 45%. But the gender gap is huge, with Biden beating Trump by 16 points — 53% to 37% — among women, while Trump holds a 20-point lead among men. These figures closely resemble the outcome in 2020, when women gave Biden a 15-point advantage, according to exit polls.

Gender is only one factor among many in shaping each voter’s decision. Plenty of women are deeply upset with Biden over issues like inflation and immigration. But this election, like the last two, will be very close, and most voters are already locked into their preferences.

So, a shift of a few votes in a few states could make a major difference. And two issues have emerged that could provide Democrats the leverage they need to attract marginal female voters: Trump’s legal troubles and his position on abortion.

That legal jeopardy was spotlighted this week as the first of four criminal cases against the ex-president went to trial in New York. Most lawyers, including Democrats, consider it the weakest of the four allegations: that Trump falsified business records to cover up a brief fling with a porn star.

But a shaky legal case can still have a damaging political impact, especially with women. When polled, 40% of them called the charges against Trump “very serious” (compared to 20% of men), and another 30% deemed them “somewhat serious.”

Remember, too, that Nikki Haley wounded Trump during the GOP primaries by repeatedly denouncing the “chaos” that seems to follow him everywhere, and a well-publicized trial that drags up Trump’s tawdry treatment of women is not going to help his reputation. In the Times survey, 68% of women said that Trump lacks “the personality and temperament to be an effective president.” Almost the same number called him a “risky” choice and said he does not respect women.

‘Why I don’t like him’

“With these trials, there’s the 12-person jury, and then there’s 120 million Americans that are gonna vote that form their own jury on this,” Jim Kessler, executive vice president of Third Way, a center-left policy group, told the Washington Post. “It’s like, ‘Oh yeah, he’s that guy. I forgot about the porn star.’ … You could see women saying, ‘Here’s another reminder why I don’t like him.”’

Those gnawing negative feelings can crystallize around the issue of abortion. Every state that has recently voted on the issue has favored the abortion rights side, and women voters have been pivotal to those outcomes. Take Ohio, generally a red state, but 3 out of 5 women supported an initiative to protect abortion rights in the state constitution. It passed with 57% of the total vote.

Trump boasts about appointing three U.S. Supreme Court justices who backed the Dobbs decision that overturned Roe v. Wade and canceled a woman’s constitutional right to choose an abortion. But that ruling remains very unpopular, with 6 in 10 voters disapproving of it in an NBC survey. The critics, reports NBC, include “nearly 80% of female voters ages 18-49, two-thirds of suburban women, 60% of independents and even a third of Republican voters.”

Trump effectively wooed evangelical Christians by promising to appoint conservative judges, but in politics, every action has a reaction. And now Democrats are turning his triumph against him, using his judicial choices as a key argument to deny him a second term.

In a recent TV ad, Biden warns: “Because of Donald Trump, millions of women lost the fundamental freedom to control their own bodies. … Women’s lives are in danger because of that.” His main target is young women, and Biden says sharply, “Your body and your decisions belong to you, not the government, not Donald Trump.”

“Republicans were on offense, they won constantly on this,” Doug Heye, a veteran Republican strategist, told Politico. “Now, post-Dobbs, the situation is reversed.” Added Justin Sayfie, another GOP operative: “If you’re the Democratic Party, you want to lean in as hard as you can into reproductive rights.”

Biden talks often about the death of his young wife and daughter in a car accident, and how Jill came into his life and saved him emotionally. Now it’s up to her sisters to save him politically.

Steven Roberts teaches politics and journalism at George Washington University.

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