Suburban Women and Their Votes

The pundits are saying that suburban women could swing this election. In 2016, they voted for Trump, but this year, it is projected that they will vote for Biden. Now, that all may be true, and I hope it is, but what’s irking me today is the two-dimensional perceptions of suburban women.

Take today’s The Daily podcast — “Why Suburban Women Changed Their Minds” — as an example. Normally, I adore this show, but I only made it through half the podcast on my morning walk, because of all the gag-worthy tropes. Suburban women drink wine! They hangout in Panera’s! They like to get their hair done! Please. Suburban women are more multi-dimensional than that.

Last month, I got a phone call from a reporter – a friend of a friend – who was doing an article about the suburbs. A life-long city resident, she thought the suburbs were like scenes in Edward Scissorhands with cookie cutter houses and bored women who drank too much and had affairs. When I didn’t give the quotes that she was looking for, she said that it was probably because I was too old. It took me a week to get over that comment.

Now, the podcast was right in many ways. There are groups of highly progressive women’s groups forming in the suburbs. I belong to one, though it hasn’t been very active lately. But there are also a lot of conservative women, whose votes are based on religion or economic interests. One friend told me this week, she was voting for Trump, because her small business health insurance premiums went sky-high with Obamacare. Women are a diverse group, after all.

I think a lot more women will vote for Biden this year, because they perceive him to be a nicer guy than Trump. Being “nice” is a big deal to pretty much all women. But I rarely talk to enthusiastic supporters of him or the Democratic Party, because they don’t think that they will follow through on promises for better schools, affordable childcare, or more economic opportunities for their kids. They are worried about paying higher taxes and higher college tuition, when those dollars do not benefit their own families.

Now, I am guilty of the same sin as that New York Times writer and painting all suburban women with the same broad (yuck!) brush. But for the sake of finding some conclusions, if we average out all those suburban women, cancelling out the extremists on either end, I think that you are left with a moderate voter, who feels ignored and disrespected by political leaders and the media. It’s hard to become super involved in the process, when feel that you are marginalized and reduced to a stereotype or even a slur – “wine moms!” “Karens!”

The suburbs themselves are poorly understood by political pundits, because most pundits live in urban areas and because there is so little academic research on suburban voters. So, women from suburbs are doubly mysterious. And a little dumpy. And not fun to write about unless the story involves copious amounts of booze and wife-swapping.

If we want suburban women to vote, and to vote Democratic, then political leaders need to speak to them, not take them for granted, and not treat them like cartoon figure from a Tim Burton movie. Give them good schools. Help them out as their parents age and require more help. Help their kids transition successfully into the workforce. I think those are progressive issues, and are extremely compatible with the Democratic platform. Tweak the message, and you will convert that cohort for life.