‘Playing the man card’: Scholars dissect Trump, Clinton and gender at Morristown talk

donald trump vs. hillary clinton
Political scientists Ashley Koning, Dan Cassino and Kelly Dittmar discuss gender politics, march 16, 2017, in Morristown. Photo by Nicole Verduin
Political scientists Ashley Koning, Dan Cassino and Kelly Dittmar discuss gender politics, March 16, 2017, in Morristown. Photo by Nicole Verduin

By Nicole Verduin

Four months after Donald Trump was elected 45th President of the United States, some Americans still wonder: How did Trump beat Hillary Clinton?

According to three political scientists who spoke in Morristown on Thursday, the election came down to a show of manliness, and the role of gender in modern society. 

donald trump vs. hillary clintonLooking back at the polls, “We not only see Clinton as being almost a sure thing, we see her getting propelled to victory by women. We also see that the gender gap had been predicted to be absolutely historic, the biggest ever in recorded history,”  said Ashley Koning, director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling at Rutgers.

Koning addressed a mostly female audience of about 60 people at the Visiting Nurse Association of Northern New Jersey.

The talk, titled Whats Gender Got To Do With It?, was presented by the League of Women Voters of the Morristown Area and the Delta Sigma Theta sorority, and also featured political science professors Kelly Dittmar of Rutgers and Dan Cassino of Fairleigh Dickinson University.

So what happened to Clinton’s sure thing?

Party trumped gender. Women did not vote as a monolith, Koning said.

Clinton got 84 percent of the vote from Democratic women, and Trump got 79 percent from GOP women, according to Koning. The biggest voting demographic was education: College-educated voters versus voters with no degrees.

The election hinged more on sexism than the sex of voters, said Koning, citing a 2016 Monkey Cage poll suggesting more “sexist” beliefs, behaviors, and political views among Trump voters and supporters.

She defined “sexist” along the lines of old-fashioned women-belong-at-home and not-in-the- workplace attitudes.


Cassino, director of experimental research for FDU’s PublicMind poll, studied men’s beliefs about gender roles.

He concluded the election “was about a woman,” and that “Republican men feel discriminated against.”

Cassino asserted that masculinity is tenuous and needs to be proven or tested; it’s a powerful motivator of male behavior.

Using a technique called gender-priming, he made male survey respondents feel insecure about their masculinity by pointing out that nearly one-fourth of wives earn more than their husbands.

After gender priming, Cassino found a drastic rise in support for Trump against Clinton — but no such change in support for Trump against Bernie Sanders.

As society has gravitated toward gender parity, traditional roles have been threatened. This has been interpreted as discrimination by Republican men, according to Cassino.

These perceived threats to gender roles have led some Republican men to reinforce their party identity by trying to assert dominance over other social groups and demographics, he said.

“Traditional masculinity actually lines up quite nicely with Republican views,” he said.


The G.O.P. nominee grasped this, said Dittmar, a scholar at the Center for American Women and Politics at the Eagleton Institute of Politics.

“Trump played the ‘man card’,” she said. “He played upon perceptions of feminine instability to undermine Clinton and his other, male opponents.”

Marketing himself as the “protector,” Trump emasculating the other candidates, male and female alike, by portraying them as weak or making fun of their attire, Dittmar said.

Pursuing the White House is especially daunting for female candidates, she said, because “the  presidency has always been seen as the manliest office in all of government.”

Clinton’s strategy was to embody masculine toughness, while pushing the boundaries and redefining the concept of traditional masculinity, the professor said.

The Democrat’s opponent threw this back at Clinton with billboards mocking her “vagenda of manocide.”

Next up for the League of Women Voters: Confrontation versus Conversation, on May 4.  Stay tuned for details.

Correspondent Nicole Verduin is a junior at Drew University, majoring in English.

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  1. “Trump played the ‘man card’,” she said. “He played upon perceptions of feminine instability to undermine Clinton and his other, male opponents.”

    And now we have a 70-year-old to-the-manor-born hysteric occupying the most powerful office in the world. He has regular Twitter tantrums. He lies consistently. He thrives on havoc and infighting among his staff.

    And worse, he feels that the poor have too much, the very rich not enough.

    It’s already a cliche, but her emails & 3 speeches to Goldman Sachs? Really?