If, as Madeleine Albright noted, "there's a special place in hell for women who don't support other women," the 2016 election means they ought to start making space down below. Despite accounts of Donald Trump's appalling treatment of women, the "gender gap" in the presidential election did not favor Hillary Clinton at all, with women breaking in Clinton's favor in similar margins to how men broke for Donald Trump.
Hillary Clinton famously embraced the Trump-originated label "nasty woman" as yet another way to show just how bad Donald Trump was to women. In the end, plenty of people agreed that Trump is no feminist icon or even a gentleman. But though 70 percent of voters said they were troubled by Trump's treatment of women, three out of ten of those troubled people wound up voting for Trump anyway. It was enough to give him the election.
This election has perplexed some feminists over how it is possible that such a large number of women could possibly have supported Donald Trump for president. As both a conservative and a feminist, I find myself in agreement with a strange assortment of folks from time to time, and this year has been no different. For instance, when women are treated differently on the basis of their sex – subjected to additional scrutiny about their choices around family and career, mocked for their attire or appearance – I find myself in line with frustrated feminists who rightly want women to have a fair and equal shot. But it is that same desire for equal treatment that makes me bristle whenever "women's issues" are invoked in politics, I think it is this emphasis on "women's issues" from Democrats that enabled Donald Trump to hang on to a shockingly strong proportion of female voters.
It is easy for those parsing the polls to search for special issues or messages that move particular slices of voters. This leads people to overemphasize the importance of, say, immigration when it comes to the attitudes of Hispanic voters, or an issue like student loan debt when it comes to young voters. Yes, these issues matter, and maybe more to those specific groups than to voters overall. Hispanic voters might be slightly more interested in questions of what to do about immigration, and younger voters might be especially interested in the question of student loans, but that by no means makes these issues the top issuefor these voters.
The same can be said of women. The Economist and YouGov asked a large sample of voters, post-election, which issues mattered most to them. Three-quarters said "the economy" was very important to them, as was "health care," and women were more likely to each as "very important" more than were men. While 55 percent of men said terrorism was "very important," that went all the way to 69 percent for women.
Meanwhile, fewer than half of women named "abortion" as a very important issue to them. Yes, more women than men said the issue was "very important," but this pattern had held for many other issues tested. The economy was the top issue overall, with abortion falling far, far down the list.
Even within the "women's issues," is not clear that all women agree on a position. On the issue of abortion, for instance, women's views are not monolithic. Some 85 percent of Democratic women believe abortion should be legal in all or most circumstances, but that view is held by only 32 percent of Republican women. (Interestingly, within the Republican voter group, Republican women tend to be very slightly less pro-choice than men, with 36 percent of Republican men saying abortion should be legal in all or most cases.)
Conservative women often make the case that "all issues are women's issues," and are sometimes derided by those on the left when they do so. But the minimal gaps between men and women overall on the importance of the economy, and the critical nature of issues such as health care and national security, suggest that narrowly focusing in on winning women with "women's issue" pitches may be missing the mark.
Women want fair taxes, a growing economy, affordable health care, secure borders and the defeat of ISIS. They don't need the solutions to be wrapped in pink. They just want problems solved.
Trump's victory was likely driven in part by his ability to speak to the concerns of voters – men and women - on those sorts of issues. Pew Research Center found that, despite the focus on working class white men as a driver of Trump support in key rural areas of states such as Wisconsin and Michigan, women in these areas were just as focused on the very same sorts of economic issues. White residents of rural communities were much more likely than their suburban or urban counterparts to say that good jobs are hard to find, and it was women (74 percent) even more than men (64 percent) driving that sentiment. There was also almost no gender gap in that study on concerns about the economic impact of immigrants in these communities.
So when the exit polls show Trump not just running up the numbers with white non-college men, but winning white non-college women by almost a two-to-one margin, and losing white college-graduate women by only a few points, it may be time to acknowledge that the issues where Donald Trump did reasonably well with voters – on questions of who is best to handle terrorism and the economy – "trumped" his position on "women's issues" or his treatment of women overall.
Women face unique challenges in society, no doubt. But focusing narrowly on women as a special interest group isn't the winning play. The ability to pay your bills, send your kids to a good school, and keep your family safe are "women's issues" after all.
Kristen Soltis Anderson is a columnist for The Washington Examiner and author of "The Selfie Vote."