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There has been much concern over the election about the suburban women vote. Over the course of the last two years, this demographic has waxed and waned in its support for Republicans and Trump. Many cite a growing distaste for Trump’s demeanor as the reason for their displeasure, but this appears to be more of a guess. While its true, women as a whole have increasingly grown disapproving of Trump’s job performance, the NPR/Marist poll that these interpretations are relying on hardly point to Trump’s demeanor for a growing disapproval among suburban women. This is the only poll I have found cited since Rasmussen reported the uptick from the Kavanaugh Affair.
The Suburban Woman Defined
But what is a suburban woman? Are they the women who largely populated the outer areas of cities? Areas which have grown increasingly diverse, with waning incomes and growing poverties? Or is it a very specific demographic, regardless of where they live? Danielle Kurtzleben at NPR provides a decent definition:
In political speak, the focus on “suburban women” is often a focus on highly educated, upper-middle-class, often-but-not-always-married white women. What it ends up doing is flattening other important demographic differences, even after a long period in which suburbs have grown increasingly diverse.
What this appears to be saying is that other criteria that largely shape other classes of voters do not have as great of an effect on suburban women. For instance, among blue-collar men, whether you are white or black has a significant impact on what gets your vote. For suburban women, both black and white women tend to be less swayed by their race than by the fact that they are wealthy, educated, and likely married.
The Historical “Suburban” Woman
The suburban woman isn’t necessarily a modern invention. She’s been around since 1848 and she was a key figure in the abolition movement and the underground railroad. Championing equality for all, she is epitomized by the wealthy aristocratic woman attending women’s organizations like the Women’s Aid Society, throwing vocal support, money, or pliant husbands at special causes. Of course, she went by another name then – the Progressive, seeking the progress of humanity’s equality.
Once these women managed to accrue for themselves the vote, they turned their attention towards those they perceived to be less fortunate than themselves, taking on such projects as child labor laws, minimum wage, democratic appointment of US senators (corruption), and (our favorite) prohibition (likely abused women).
Closely tied with the Methodist church, they became eponymous with the Religious Republican party and were seen as the moral conscience of the nation. In the 1980s, largely married with children and a mortgage, they may have been the primary reason for the Right’s reputation of trying to legislate morality, as they tackled movie ratings, tv programming, and book censorship. As the demographics of women changed in the late 80s and 90s with a rise in single motherhood and divorce, and a shift in the Democrat party’s priorities, women began moving away from the Republican Party and began to focus on welfare for single mothers, abortion rights, and a shunning of what is now referred to as “slut shaming”. Finding a home in the Clinton Democrat party, in the 90s to 2010s there is a slow melting away of the Republican party’s social legislating tendency with stronger libertarianism sentiments having more dominance within the party while the Democrats’ progressive wing began to grow and eventually dominate.
Exit polls show that in 1980s presidential elections, suburban voters were decidedly more Republican than Democratic. That slid in the 1990s, and today, there is a more even split. In the 2016 election, 49 percent of suburban voters voted for Donald Trump and 45 percent voted for Hillary Clinton.
The Priorities of Women
Many pixels have been blackened in an attempt to demonstrate the differences between men and women. One of the differences highlighted is the preference for emotional thinking among women. While women don’t feel emotions differently, they do process it differently:
The results showed quite clearly that men and women did not differ overall in their intensity of moment-to-moment emotional reactions to the images. But the neural circuitry recruited during emotion processing differed between the sexes. Women showed neural activity in the anterior insula cortex, which processes bodily sensations. This means that they deeply experienced emotions within their bodies. Men, on the other hand, showed neural responses in the visual cortex. While processing these images, male brains immediately activated circuitry involved in regulating shifts of attention to the world (i.e., the dorsal anterior insula cortex and the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex). This allowed them to shift the emotional impact of the images away from themselves.
This leads to women prioritizing emotion over reason. This isn’t to mean that reason and emotion can not coexist, but that emotion is frequently preferred among a majority of women.
The second is that women prefer security. There are a lot of studies cited in investment and business blogs concerning the natural risk-aversion among women. Because of this, they will prefer status-quo (at times) over rapid change and a larger state than a smaller one.
How do these work together? Ms. Kurtzleben suggests this:
“Do those white affluent suburban voters say, ‘I’m going to do fine whether there’s a Democratic Congress or a Republican Congress, and I’m going to cast my vote on sort of the tone of Washington — not necessarily religious values or moral values, but civic values’?”
If that’s true, McHenry said, Republicans are in trouble, as moderates and independents turned off by Trump’s tweeting and coarse language might decide to vote for Democrats.
I don’t necessarily agree with her on the part about Trump. As I stated earlier, none of the polling these statements are relying on break the discontent with Trump down like that. We can’t know if it’s his behavior or coarse language that is causing the discontent.
But given women’s historical behavior on the political stage, women will vote for security and self-interest if they feel threatened, but revert to a compassionate position when they feel secure.
The NY Times wrote about Suburban men standing with Trump and noted this (which also explains the drop among the Blue Collar Rust Belt):
One reason for their continued support now: White college-educated men have benefited unequally in the Trump economy. While the president’s favorite barometer of success, the stock market, is up 26 percent since he took office, individual stock ownership is concentrated among people in the upper income brackets, who are far more likely to be white. The Republican tax cut also delivered higher benefits to whites than to blacks or Latinos, according to a recent study.
Considering suburban women are more likely married to suburban men (and those who aren’t likely experienced the same economic uptick), suburban women are not feeling the pressure they felt when they voted for Trump in 2016. This means other concerns can be prioritized once more, and equality and compassion for those they perceive downtrodden is a demonstrated pattern of concern.
In a previous thread, I claimed that women are more susceptible to internalizing white guilt, privilege, and misguided compassion. The emotional processing of women leads to internalizing emotions, as they feel the emotion throughout their entire bodies. Being highly educated, they have been exposed to white guilt and white privilege theory for longer than other demographics. Their emotional processing also makes them more susceptible to emotional appeals.
Due to their simultaneous preferences for compassion and security, any attempt to appeal to the suburban woman needs to be coupled with championing an under-dog if they are reasonably secure or offering a solution if they feel insecure.
In 2016, suburban women were flipped with immigration concerns because that issue threatened the education of their children. Trump also had a very compelling narrative concerning blue-collar workers that may have drawn in the compassionate nature of these women. Trump also played on the emotional sensibilities of all Americans with his trumped up rhetoric.
It also explains why the Kavanaugh Affair led to an increase. At that time, Kavanaugh was the under-dog, unjustly attacked, and the insecurity was concerning their own sons.
Unfortunately, as progressivism becomes increasingly untethered from Methodist Christian values where it was birthed and further entangles itself into the very Calvinistic secularism of today, it may be difficult for Republicans to maintain their hold on the Evangelical block and get back the progressive Women vote, as the two will only drift further apart unless a religious revival pulls the secular tide back or the evangelical block devolves into secularism itself.