Almost every subgroup of women in CNN’s national exit polls moved towards the Democratic Party, including white women, Latinas, white college-educated women, white non-college-educated women, Democratic women and independent women. The only groups that are inconclusive or stayed the same on a national level were African-American women and Republican women.
This is the first time since 1984 that Democrats have won control of the House without winning men, and the largest margin for Democrats among women in exit polling history (which dates back to 1976 for the House).
All election cycle, journalists and pollsters alike have noted how pronounced the gender gap has become on the generic ballot. Days before the election, 62% of women likely voters nationally said in a CNN poll conducted by SSRS that they’d support the Democratic candidate compared to only 48% of men who said the same. Exit polls suggest the final vote will largely mirror that result, with 59% of women saying they supported the Democrat compared to 47% of men.
While women have been steadily moving towards Democratic candidates, men have remained more the same, nationally. They did vote more Democratic in 2018 than in 2016, but around the same as they voted in 2012. Men may have moved towards Democrats in this election, but not in any amount we haven’t seen before.
White women have been getting more Democratic both on the national level and in most states polled since 2012 – that includes Arizona, Florida, Missouri, Texas and West Virginia. In the 2012 presidential election, 56% of white women voted for the Republican Party nominee, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, 14 percentage points more than voted for President Barack Obama, according to CNN exit polls that year. In 2014, the same margin voted for a Democratic House candidate in the midterms. In 2016, 55% of white women voted for a Republican in the House election, a 12-point lead over Democrats.
In 2018, the same percentage of white women voted for a Democrat as voted Republican – 49%. That’s a drop from a 14-point lead for Republicans in 2012 to a net even currently among white women. This trend towards Democratic candidates among white women also occurred in key states where Democrats did not win statewide races on Election Day, like Arizona, Florida, Missouri, Texas, and West Virginia. Several races, including Senate races in Arizona and Florida remain in question. As of this writing, the Democrat leads in Arizona and the Republican leads in Florida.
White women still voted for the Republican more than for the Democrat in many key states, but less so than in recent elections. In Texas, 71% of white women voted for Republican John Cornyn over Democrat David Alameel for Senate in 2014 (a 44 percentage point difference). In 2016, more white women voted for President Donald Trump than Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton by 37 percentage points.
In Texas’ 2018 exit poll, 60% of white women voted for Republican incumbent Ted Cruz, only 21 percentage points more than voted for Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke. Though that is still a big Republican advantage, it has certainly shrunk – from a 44-point lead in 2014 for Republicans to a 21-point lead in 2018.
White men also voted slightly more Democratic than usual in 2018. But while white women went from 56% support for the GOP in 2014 to to 49% support for the GOP in 2018, white men shifted only four percentage points, from 64% in favor of the Republican candidate in 2014 to 60% support for the Republican candidate this year.
White college-educated women, a more specific subgroup, have moved even more Democratic in every key battleground state polled (including Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Missouri, Nevada, and Texas) and nationally since 2014. In 2014, white college-educated women voted for the Republican candidate by four percentage points more than the Democratic candidate, and in 2016, they supported both candidates equally. But in 2018, 59% of white college-educated women voted for a Democratic candidate in the House, 20-points more than voted for the Republican.
The only state in which white women didn’t stay the same or become more Democratic was Georgia, where white women have been moving towards Republicans since 2014 – voting for Republican Nathan Deal by 41 percentage points over Democrat Jason Carter in the gubernatorial election. In the 2018 exit polls, 75% of white women voted for Republican Brian Kemp, 50 percentage points more than voted for Democrat Stacey Abrams.
In Georgia exit polls, 97% of African-American women voted for Abrams, a sizable increase from both the 2014 gubernatorial election in Georgia and the 2016 presidential election. In 2014, African-American women voted for the Democratic candidate for governor at 89% and 10% for the Republican candidate – a 79-point advantage for Democrats. In 2018, among African-American women, Abrams, who would be the nation’s first African-American woman governor, had a 95-point advantage.
Independent women is another subgroup in Georgia that has moved toward Democrats; they supported the Republican Deal in 2014 by 10 percentage points more than Carter compared to breaking for for Stacey Abrams at 53%, eight points more than voted for Kemp.
Nationally and in every key race state polled except Texas and Arizona, independent women have been moving towards Democrats (Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Missouri, and Nevada). In 2012, when Democrat Charlie Crist and Republican Rick Scott were running against each other for Florida governor, independent women supported Crist by only two percentage points. In 2016, the Democratic advantage moved to seven points in the presidential race between Clinton and Trump. In 2018, 59% of independent women voted for Democrat Bill Nelson, 20 points more than those who voted for Republican Rick Scott. Scott leads in the race, but it appears to be headed for a recount.
Nationally, independent men are one of the few groups of men that appear to be moving more Democratic. Independent men voted Republican by 19 percentage points more than Democratic in 2014 and 12 points more in 2016. In 2018, independent men voted for the Democrat over the Republican by seven points, a 26 percentage point shift from 2014 to 2018 – even larger than the 21 percentage point shift in that period among independent women.
Democratic women, most of whom voted with the base to begin with, did so slightly more nationally, and in Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, Missouri, and Nevada in 2018 than they did in 2016. Republican women haven’t moved much in almost all states, except for Florida. In Florida, Republican women have moved ever-so-slightly towards the Democrats since 2014.
What explains this shift is very much up for debate. There are likely many factors at play, possibly including the MeToo movement, Trump’s combative rhetoric and the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.
It is undeniable that a shift of women toward Democrats helped elect more women than ever before to Congress this year. Eighty-one percent of women who voted in 2018 said that it’s important to elect more women to public office, even higher among women who voted for a Democratic candidate for the House (97%).
Women were also much more likely than men to use their vote for Congress to oppose Trump – 43% of women said so compared to 31% of men. Trump isn’t on the ballot this year, but many Americans still said their vote was in opposition or support of the President, and it was clearly of more importance to women than men.
Another big factor in women’s vote was sexual harassment. Eight-seven percent of women said sexual harassment is an important problem in our country today while slightly fewer (80%) of men said the same.