WASHINGTON – When Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton face off in their first presidential debate on Monday, they will have their best chance yet to win over the 27 million Americans who have yet to decide who to vote for.
In some ways, this group looks like typical Trump supporters. They are mainly white, without college degrees, older and frustrated by the status quo.
But while Trump’s supporters are mostly men, uncommitted voters are mostly women, according to Reuters/Ipsos polling.
With polls showing a close fight between Trump and Clinton, this group could decide the election.
Katie Packer, a Republican strategist who served as a top aide to Mitt Romney in 2012, said polls show that many undecided women have been put off by Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric, but others see Clinton, the first female presidential candidate from a major party, as dishonest.
“These are the same women who don’t trust Hillary and think she’s phony,” she said. “But Trump is scary to them.”
Roughly 20 percent of America’s likely voters are still on the fence, compared to just 12 percent at the same time in the 2012 election, underscoring the unpopularity of both Trump and Clinton.
Some 77 percent of them think the country is on the “wrong track,” which puts them more in line with Trump supporters than Clinton backers. They are also similar in age to many Trump backers: 54 percent are at least 55 years old. And 67 percent never earned a college degree, compared with 71 percent for Trump supporters and 56 percent for Clinton supporters.
Gender-wise, they track more closely with Clinton’s base. Some 60 percent are women. Trump’s base is made up of about 48 percent women, compared with 52 percent for Clinton.
The most recent Reuters/Ipsos poll found Clinton leading Trump by 4 percentage points in a two-way race. The Democratic nominee has mostly led Trump in the poll this year, but the gap between has narrowed with seven weeks left before the Nov. 8 election.
With neither candidate a clear favorite on issues like creating jobs or keeping the nation safe, nearly a third of uncommitted voters said they may be more likely to vote for a third-party candidate than for either Clinton or Trump.
“One of the most important issues in this election is just making sure that our country has a future both through education and jobs,” said undecided voter Erika Szotek, 43, of Hanover Park, Illinois, who voted for Romney in 2012.
She said she thought Trump’s “flamboyancy is going to get the country into a lot of trouble with other countries.” But she isn’t sold on Clinton either. “There are some things I just don’t trust about her.”
Women have been a lingering problem for Trump, whose unfiltered speaking style and fiery rhetoric on immigration and security have put many off. He has also gotten into trouble for some remarks he has made about women.
He was widely criticized for saying Fox News host Megyn Kelly had “blood coming out of her wherever,” a comment many interpreted as referring to her menstruating, although he insisted that was not what he meant.
He has also called television personality Rosie O’Donnell a “fat pig” and made fun of former presidential rival and ex-Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina’s face, saying, “Would anyone vote for that?”
Clinton’s campaign has seized on the vulnerability. This past week it launched an ad that shows girls looking in mirrors and plays recordings of Trump commenting on women’s weight and breast size, calling them “slob,” “pig,” and “fat.”
But Clinton has her own troubles.
Multiple polls show that her use of a private email server without approval while secretary of state has deepened voters’ mistrust of her even though she has since acknowledged it was a mistake. Trump frequently calls her “Crooked Hillary.”
FBI Director James Comey recommended in July that no criminal charges be brought against Clinton for her handling of classified information while she was secretary of state, but he called her use of the server “extremely careless.”
Ruth Hammett, 77, of Kingsland, Georgia, said she would be looking to the debates for guidance on which candidate to support. She is leaning toward Clinton but wants to hear both candidates address national security. “I’m very scared, most so for my kids and my grandkids,” Hammett said. “I’m scared to death.”
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