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What the ‘women’s vote’ means in 2016

Women made up more than half of all voters in 2012. What's winning over this diverse and crucial bloc of voters in 2016? Judy Woodruff explores how women see this year’s candidates with Rebecca Traister, author, "All the Single Ladies," Ann Selzer of Selzer & Company and Kelly Dittmar of the Center for American Women and Politics.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Another issue in the spotlight this week: women voters. In 2012, they made up 53 percent of the electorate in the presidential race.

    To check in on that crucial voting bloc and what is driving the thinking of women voters this year, we are joined by Rebecca Traister. She's a journalist and author of "All The Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation." Kelly Dittmar, she's a scholar at the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. And pollster Ann Selzer, she's president of Selzer & Company.

    And we welcome all three of you to the program.

    Let me start with you, Kelly Dittmar.

    Remind us, how did American women vote in the last few presidential elections?

    KELLY DITTMAR, Center for American Women and Politics: Sure.

    So, there's a persistent gender gap in terms of women's support and presidential vote choice, where we see women more likely to vote for the Democratic candidate than their male counterparts. So, if you just look at 2012, for example, you see that women were supporting Barack Obama at about 55 percent, and compared to men at about 45 percent, so we would call that a 10-point gender gap.

    And, of course, if you sort of break that down, you see even stronger support among women of color for Barack Obama at 96 percent, for example, among black women.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Ann Selzer, what do we see so far this year in how the women's vote is breaking down based on the exit polls in these primaries so far? And let's start with the Republicans.

    ANN SELZER, Selzer & Company: Well, we're just starting to see things really kind of coalesce here.

    In terms of the primaries with Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, she is leading with women. She's not necessarily leading with younger women. And so that really remains her challenge as she thinks about heading into a general election.

    In terms of the Republican side of this, what you have is a stronger showing by Cruz among women and a stronger showing for Trump among men. He pretty much dominates the male vote. It's a two-point race between Trump and Cruz in terms of the primary vote.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And, Ann, just quickly, has that been consistent through the primaries or has that been shifting?

  • ANN SELZER:

    Well, what we have been seeing is the favorability shifting quite a bit in terms of Donald Trump in particular, in that he has started out from a negative position in terms of overall favorability, and he's only gotten more giving in terms of how women are rating him.

    That — women are the people — that's the constituency that elects presidents, as we just heard from the numbers of Romney vs. Obama, and for Donald Trump to have an unfavorable number in 60 percent among women, that makes it very hard for him to think about winning an election.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Rebecca Traister, you have been looking at what's driving the women's vote. As we mentioned, you have written a book about unmarried women, but across the board, what do you see women — what is it that motivates women when they go to the polls?

    REBECCA TRAISTER, Author, "All The Single Ladies": Well, as you said, you know, I have been looking specifically at unmarried women, who make up a huge part of the electorate.

    In 2012, they comprised — unmarried women comprised 23 percent of the electorate, and they seem to vote very far left. I mean, they voted for Barack Obama in 2012 — again, it's almost a quarter of the electorate — voted for Barack Obama 67 percent to 31 percent.

    And one of the things that I think we're seeing reflected on the Democratic platform, both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton are putting forth all kinds of policies that increasingly making sense in a world in which women are living more independently from marriage than ever before, and those things include the increase in minimum wage.

    Two-thirds of minimum-wage workers are women, half of them unmarried women. Things like paid leave, and better subsidized early childhood education and day care. Both candidates are talking about reducing college costs. Of course, you know, women are very interested often — especially, those who lean left are very interested in protecting reproductive rights, which are obviously part of the Democratic — those are strong Democratic priorities.

    So I think this election in particular, you're seeing a lot of people, a lot of women voting Democratic and talking about their economic concerns and wanting to see new social and economic programs that are going to stabilize their economic life.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And let me turn back to Kelly Dittmar about women voting in the Republican primaries.

    It seems they're not necessarily motivated by the same things that are motivating women who turn out to vote Democratic.

  • KELLY DITTMAR:

    Yes, I think one interesting thing we have been seeing in some of the polling on the Republican side is that there has been a strong security push.

    And we have talked in past elections about security moms as a certain subset of voter, but actually more so in this election than some. In elections in the past, you have seen some gender gaps in the prioritization of security-related issues, things like concerns about terrorism in light of recent attacks or concerns overall about somebody's ability to be commander in chief, and that that seems more important among Republican women voters than among Democratic women voters.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And, Ann Selzer, what would you add to that about the difference about what's motivating women on the Democratic side and women on the Republican side and what's — how they're making these decisions?

  • ANN SELZER:

    Well, one of the things, I think, is the obvious women's issues, we don't really talk about them as women's issues anymore. We don't talk about the pay gap as much as we're talking about income inequality.

    There are ways in which sort of the woman part of women's issues is sort of fading, but it doesn't mean that that's not important to women anymore. It's more just kind of the hushed side of it that is the feminism side of some of those issues.

    I will just add that our most recent Bloomberg Politics national poll, we did a package on trade and took a look at how people are feeling in the environment where especially the Republicans are talking about more restrictions, tightening up what is happening with free trade. And women are more protectionist — this is women overall, Republicans and Democrats — than men.

    So there are ways in which women are responding to issues very differently, and this is shaping up to be such a different election for us all, as we look at the way the tea leaves are falling.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    What about that, Rebecca Traister? I mean, could this year turn upside-down some of the assumption about women, whether they're married or unmarried, as they think about whom to support?

  • REBECCA TRAISTER:

    Well, I think the election is already sort of offering a whole set of new choices. I don't think we have ever had a candidate like Donald Trump, for instance. I don't know whether he will wind up the Republican nominee or not.

    But in terms of his style of speaking, his approach doesn't match previous models. And, of course, when it comes to either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders, you're looking at candidates who are unlike anything we have ever seen before. And I think that, in fact, not only, in that she is a woman and he is a Jewish self-described socialist, I think you're also looking at a Democratic platform that is much further to the left in general in terms of a whole suite of issues than we have seen in recent memory.

    And so I think a lot of expectations are very much up in the air. I think very few people could have predicted going in and very few people did predict Donald Trump's success or, for that matter, the strength of Bernie Sanders' campaign.

    So, yes, I think we don't — I think it's very hard to use old models to predict what is going to happen over the next six months.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Kelly Dittmar, just quickly, as we look to the primaries that are remaining and the general election, is there something these candidates need to keep in mind if they hope to appeal to women across the board?

  • KELLY DITTMAR:

    Well, I think one thing is to recognize, as everyone has said tonight, that women voters are not a monolithic bloc.

    And so when you're trying to appeal to women voters, you have to really specify which women you're trying to appeal to. And so primary electorates are going to be different than your general electorates. And the messages that you need to resonate with Republican women vs. Democratic women, or women of color, black women vs. white women in many cases, or unmarried vs. married women, are going to be different.

    And I think candidates do a disservice when they try to target women as a bloc and do things that end up appearing either patronizing or sort of essentialist. And so I think candidates need to be looking at the diversity among women voters. And that's going to get them to the finish line, whether in the primary or the general election.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    A good reminder, as we wrap this up. And, of course, we're going to continue to stay focused on the women's and the men's vote throughout this election.

    But thank you, all three, Ann Selzer, Rebecca Traister and Kelly Dittmar.

  • KELLY DITTMAR:

    Thank you.

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