By now, you’ve probably heard that Donald J. Trump has a problem with women. Not just suburban women, but American women across age, race or education — a pattern that shows up in every poll.
But the gender gap may not be as much about President Trump as many people think. And it’s also easy to overstate the significance of the gap in this election. The more meaningful story in this race is the 2016-to-2020 election gap. Polls suggests that almost all groups are moving away from President Trump relative to how they voted in 2016.
So one with one day left until the election, let’s take a look at how some of these groups may vote.
Women’s movement. Women have been moving away from Republican presidential candidates for decades, as far back as 1980. So some of what is happening with gender and the 2020 election is a continuation of this long-term movement and the overall imbalance of men and women across the parties.
The gender gap in party identification (and presidential votes) could still have something to do with Mr. Trump, but the trends predate his 2016 candidacy.
In 2008, 56 percent of women voted for Barack Obama compared with 49 percent of men — a seven-point difference; and in 2012, the gender gap in support for Mr. Obama grew to 10 points (55 percent of women compared with 45 percent of men). In 2016, exit polls estimated the gender gap between Mr. Trump and Hillary Clinton at about 13 points.
The Democracy Fund + U.C.L.A. Nationscape Project has interviewed just over 100,000 people between June and Oct. 22. On average, the data reveal the gender gap in two-party support to be nearly 13 points among those who are registered to vote. Other recent polls return similar patterns, ranging from a low of eight points (Economist/YouGov, Oct. 18) to a high of 16 (NYT/Siena, Oct. 15).
While most of this gap is explained by the simple fact that most men are Republicans and most women are Democrats, there is also a notable gender gap among people who don’t identify with a party.
Pollsters identify these nonpartisans by following up with the people who say they are independents and asking them whether they “lean” toward one or the other of the parties. Many do. Roughly two-thirds of those who initially say they are independent will end up choosing a side. This is important because roughly 90 percent of partisans on both sides end up voting for the candidate of their preferred party. These persistently independent voters, however, are up for grabs every cycle.
What can independent voters tell us about how the 2020 campaign has played out?
Independents swinging toward Biden. Independent voters typically make up about 10 percent of the registered voter population, and Nationscape has interviewed more than 10,000 of them since June. Independents are less interested in Mr. Trump relative to 2016, by about 10 points, though some were still undecided as of Oct. 22.
These are America’s swing voters, and they have been swinging toward Mr. Biden.
These nonpartisan voters are also much more likely to live in suburban areas of the country, simply because that is where most Americans live these days. Well over half the country lives in what counts as some kind of suburb.
Other groups, too. To see how the 2020 campaign has played out, however, you don’t have to look at independents or women in the suburbs — you can look at almost any group in the electorate.
Men, women, independents, suburban men and women, people 65 and over — people in these groups all report less support for Mr. Trump in 2020 than they did in 2016. But so do registered voters in rural America. Nationscape data reveals that among voters in rural America, men report moving away from Mr. Trump by six points (from 66 percent in 2016 to 60 percent in 2020), and women by four, from 54 percent to 50 percent.
The data even show a small election gap among Republicans. While their rates of voting for the president are extremely high (as are Democrats rates for Mr. Biden), Mr. Trump is doing less well among his fellow partisans than he did in 2016. In 2016, 94 percent of the Republican men in the Nationscape project say they voted for Mr. Trump. In 2020, that share dropped to 91 percent. Similarly, Republican women drop from 92 percent to 90 percent.
One exception to these trends — reflected in New York Times/Siena College polling and in other surveys — is the gains Mr. Trump has made among Hispanic voters, and to a lesser extent Black voters, although he has lost support among white voters.
Of course the president retains a narrow path to re-election via the Electoral College, even if his chances of winning the popular vote are now very slim.
But all these swings away from the president are what could end up flipping states that were very close in 2016.
You’ve heard a lot about the gender gap, and you’ll hear more about it later this week if Mr. Trump loses: about how women wound up voting for Mr. Biden at record rates and in greater numbers than men despite pleas from the president to suburban women. But the most compelling story about voter sentiment in 2020 seems to be the movement away from Mr. Trump relative to 2016 across many groups, not just women and not just women in the suburbs.
Note: The Democracy Fund + U.C.L.A. Nationscape Project interviews more than 6,000 people every week and has done so for more than year. The interviews are conducted online with samples provided by the market research firm Lucid, which are constructed to be representative of the nation as a whole.
Lynn Vavreck, the Marvin Hoffenberg Professor of American Politics and Public Policy at U.C.L.A., is a co-author of “Identity Crisis: The 2016 Presidential Campaign and the Battle for the Meaning of America.” Follow her on Twitter at @vavreck.