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Economy, Not Gender, Played A Big Factor For Many Midwestern Women Who Embraced Trump

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Michigan voted for a Republican for president for the first time in 28 years. Although low voter turnout in big Democratic strongholds like Flint and Detroit played a role, exit polling shows that rural voters turned out in record numbers to flip Michigan. Michigan Radio's Lindsey Smith explored the crucial role that women played in electing Donald Trump.

LINDSEY SMITH, BYLINE: With the first female presidential candidate on the ballot this election, it was widely expected women would turn out in large numbers for Hillary Clinton. Most did, but exit polls still show 42 percent of women backed Trump. White, non-college-educated women voted for Trump 2 to 1.

ANNE SAWYERS: I'd love to see a woman in the White House but the right one. And I don't believe she is the right one at all.

SMITH: Anne Sawyers and her husband own a small business in Grand Ledge, a town of just 8,000 people outside of the state capital. Sawyers likes Trump's shoot-from-the-hip, tell-it-like-it-is style.

SAWYERS: Like, the Clintons have - you know, people have speeches prepared for them. He speaks from his heart.

SMITH: Her friend Amy Waldrop, who lives nearby, agrees, though she admits Trump's comments are unpolished at times. Waldrop says she was appalled at the pressure put on women to elect Clinton as the first female president.

AMY WALDROP: And to some degree, it's insulting that they felt that we would vote for her just because she's a woman rather than use our minds. It is worse than what - you know, anything that Trump has said.

SMITH: Waldrop and Sawyers weren't happy with some of Trump's controversial comments about women, but they were willing to look past them because of pocketbook issues. So as Diane Schindlbeck, though she says the comments he made on the now-infamous "Access Hollywood" tape were hard to hear.

DIANE SCHINDLBECK: I also believe in forgiveness, and I know I have done things that I'm ashamed of. I know I have said things I wish I wouldn't have.

SMITH: I met Schindlbeck at a post-election party this week at a pizza-parlor-slash-Trump-campaign-office in Muskegon. With her bright red frames, bold, short red hair and matching red fingernails, Schindlbeck stands out. She's not your reluctant Trump supporter. She opened this Trump office before it was an official campaign office, before the primaries, spending her own money. So last month, when polls started to show Trump gaining major ground in Michigan, Schindlbeck took a chance, sacrificed big. She quit her nine-to-five job to volunteer full time for Trump.

SCHINDLBECK: Yes, my husband kept looking at me (laughter). I promise it's going to pay off some day, honey. I promise.

SMITH: Schindlbeck is not surprised by the number of women in Michigan who voted for Trump because of her informal polling system.

SCHINDLBECK: I actually have some vinyl door slabs on my car that says West Michigan for Trump. More women would drive by and give me thumbs up and a smile than the middle finger, OK? I was getting more thumbs than I was the other finger.

SMITH: Schindlbeck and many others here who say gender just wasn't a factor for them. Their issues were not gender-specific. More than anything, they want to see the economy improve for working-class people. And they're confident that Donald Trump's reputation as a dealmaker will win over even more women. For NPR News, I'm Lindsey Smith in Grand Rapids. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.