What’s the first word that comes to mind when you think of President Donald Trump and women? Pollsters from PerryUndem and Supermajority, a new women’s activism nonprofit, asked 1,912 likely 2020 voters to try this free-association exercise. And wouldn’t you know it—a plurality of respondents said rapist.
I’m no communications professional, but to me, these results seem to identify a serious messaging problem the president may have around issues of gender. You can’t really do worse than rapist when it comes to the public perception of your approach to women. Sure, 2.1 percent of respondents came up with abuser—but that’s more of an amorphous description of a person’s conduct than a specific, identifiable crime. (Is it emotional abuse? A groping thing?) And yeah, 2.9 percent said predator—but that’s a general state of being, not a real accusation. And OK, 5.1 percent went with misogynist—but what politician who’s called for the punishment of abortion-seeking women hasn’t been hit with that label? It’s small potatoes. When 6.3 percent of people in a demographically weighted survey blurt out rapist when they hear your name with the word women, though? Yeesh! No place to go from there but up!
Since the survey question was open-ended and elicited 627 unique answers, PerryUndem and Supermajority opted to illustrate the responses in a word cloud rather than a graph. The resulting graphic is pretty hilarious.
Word clouds had a moment in the mid-2000s, when nerds got drunk on gimmicky data visualizations; today, they seem most at home as cutesy corporate-branding devices. To see all these gravely serious words about sexual violence nestled together with positive or neutral ones (gentleman! normal! respect! OK!) in a minimally designed illustration—it’s weirdly soothing, like all the bad things have been subtly defanged by their proximity to the other things. None of the words have any gloss applied to them. They’re all just words, descriptors that add up to a profoundly contradictory representation of a single person. It looks like the mess of impulses and inspirations that might be swirling around in Trump’s brain at any given moment. Or like a computer program has run through all of American history and squirted out a dispassionate assessment of the qualities voters prefer in their presidents. Chauvinist. Good. Likes women. Support. Nothing.
Deeper in the data, it gets even more fun. My favorite words are the ones only a couple of people free-associated with Trump and women. They’re not statistically significant, and the numbers themselves are weighted, so it’s hard to say exactly how many people actually said what. But the less-frequent answers raise fascinating questions about the thought patterns of individual Americans. One person said salivating—disturbingly specific! Another came up with dirty dog, which sounds like a country club compliment that gets tossed around in the men’s sauna. Two respondents said dump truck (wha?), and another two said patriotic, which has funneled me into a mental spiral over the question of what it means to treat women patriotically. I’m very curious about what the hell the two people who said innovative are thinking. One person said lacks self-discipline—the most painstakingly polite pseudo-critique of the president’s relationship to women I have ever encountered. Someone offered the word orange, which seems to indicate an involuntary reflex on the part of one anti-Drumpf voter more than any particular statement on gender and the president. Four respondents simply said, yes.
The approving responses are more telling. Two people came up with plentiful, as if Trump has put together an abundant cornucopia of women. There were some who commended the sexual prowess of the commander in chief (playboy, player, lucky, beautiful wife, lovely wives) and some who zoomed in on the stuff his staffers say when people question them about the president’s sexism (hires many women, employment, loves women, Cabinet appointments, Bill Clinton, let it go). Three people said, accurately, married. The whole lot adds up to a near-exact reflection of how the Trump administration has defended against the more than a dozen sexual-misconduct allegations women have brought against the president. His supporters must have been relieved to be handed such a comprehensive deflection plan. Here, they’ve faithfully repeated it.
As for the five respondents who snarked biased poll or biased question at the suggestion that they write what comes to mind when they think of Trump and women—he who smelt the bias dealt the bias!