Suburban voters lead the way in determining the 2022 midterm elections

Which group leads off an analysis of key voters in the 2020 midterms? Suburban voters:

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During the Trump years, many suburban voters, especially women, shifted toward the Democrats. A primary reason was the revulsion many of them felt toward President Donald Trump.

Democrats hoped that shift signaled a more permanent alignment, and it’s true that some college-educated White women became a key part of the Democratic constituency. But what happened in the 2021 Virginia gubernatorial race raised doubts about their reliability as Democrats. Then-candidate and now-Gov. Glenn Youngkin was able to move the suburban vote back in the Republicans’ direction

Democratic pollster Celinda Lake agreed that her party’s candidates cannot take suburban women for granted in November. “Women elected Biden for stability and in reaction to Trump,” she said. “They really rejected his style of leadership. But we had one woman say in a focus group, ‘I just want to get off this roller coaster.’ ” Under Biden so far, she added, “They’re getting no help in doing that.”…

“Suburban women have moved so far the opposite direction, we’re not going to get all of them back right away. But if we can at least win back a good amount of the suburban men that we lost and some of the suburban women, that’s a formula for us to win in pretty much every state that we need to win in,” said a Senate GOP strategist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity so they could speak openly about the races they are working on.

The bottom line is that any notable move by suburban voters in the direction of the Republicans this fall will prove costly to Democratic hopes of holding down their losses. But a Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade could counter GOP efforts to woo suburban women.

Suburban voters continue to be important in multiple ways:

-They matter in important swing states where both parties would like to win. Think Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Arizona, Florida, and other locations.

-Compared to urban and rural voters, the perception is that more suburbanites are open to switching their votes or are more moderate. Thus, campaign pitches will be aimed toward them with the goal of swaying them to a particular side (maybe just for one election).

-The analysis above suggests there is a divide between suburban men and women and the issues that they care about. Will there be unified messages to suburban voters or will the campaigns clearly differentiate between male and female voters?

-Suburban voters can be reached in particular ways. Will there be big social media campaigns? An endless stream of materials in the mail and through text messages (what I have experienced in recent months in the suburbs)?

To paraphrase a famous slogan, this could be one rallying cry: “suburban voters of the United States, unite!”

“Gloom” and suburban women ahead of 2022 elections

Focus groups convened by a set of Democratic groups suggests suburban women are not feeling good about what is happening in Washington, D.C.:

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Earlier this week, 10 women from across the country met on Zoom and talked for two hours as part of a focus group on politics. All of the women were white, lived in the suburbs and had been identified as swing voters. One was a mother from Iowa who owns a small business. Another teaches special education in Florida. And there was a school bus driver from Pennsylvania….

Democrats need support from suburban women if they want to keep their House and Senate majorities in November. The women in the focus group didn’t necessarily dislike Biden. They supported the infrastructure law and opposed measures that restrict voting access. They applauded Biden for his hot-mic moment — the one when he muttered a disparaging remark about a Fox News reporter. They disliked Trump, and they were disgusted with those who attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6.

Despite all of that, they weren’t eager to vote for Democrats in the midterm elections in November…

“It’s absolutely essential that by Election Day, these suburban women are looking at Washington and seeing it as a place that can get things done,” said Meredith Kelly, a Democratic strategist.

There is a lot of time until November elections but the pattern is clear for the national political parties: appeal to suburban voters, particularly those who have voted for Republicans and Democrats in their past and need some motivation to go one way or another.

My sense is that historically Joe Biden has been a politician who has successfully made this appeal. Throughout his career, Biden has talked about the middle-class and providing opportunities for people to provide for themselves and their families.

But, Biden is now operating in a particular context. Suburban politics have some new wrinkles – school board elections, mask mandates – and some long-standing concerns: protect property values and a way of life, ensure success for children, enable local government to serve and adjust to local conditions.

Perhaps neither party has to have a wave of suburban voters in their favor but rather (1) get the right suburban voters in the closest races that matter the most for the Senate and House and/or (2) drive up voter turnout for their side. As I live in a district that is somewhat mixed politically, I will be watching how appeals are made and how they work.

Trying to attract suburban voters by fighting Critical Race Theory

The ongoing struggle for suburban voters now extends to Critical Race Theory:

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“In suburban areas, the number one cultural issue is critical race theory. The suburbs are on fire with anger,” said Corry Bliss, a Republican strategist who works on congressional races. “We are at the beginning of this issue, not the end.”…

While critical race theory is animating the party’s base, Republican operatives say the issue will have wider appeal than other cultural wedge issues because some parents see it as having a direct impact on their children’s education.

Republicans are zeroing in on winning back the white college-educated, suburban voters that abandoned them during former President Donald Trump’s tenure. A new study from Pew Research Center found that Biden won suburban voters by 11 percentage points in the 2020 election after Trump won them by two points in the 2016 election.

“Parents all over the country have been mobilized because they do not want their children being taught they are automatically racist because of their skin color. I fully expect Democrats’ support for this controversial theory to be at the center of 2022 campaigns,” National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Emmer said in a statement to McClatchy. “The most compelling electoral issues are those that focus on the issue of fairness, and that’s why critical race theory will be incredibly damaging to every vulnerable Democrat.”

While it remains to be seen how effective this will be, multiple aspects of suburban life and history may fit:

  1. Many suburbs were built on exclusion where whites worked to keep particular racial and ethnic groups out. Even as suburbs overall have become more diverse in recent decades, this has not necessarily occurred in all suburban communities.
  2. Suburbanites are often viewed as individualistic and emphasizing meritocracy. They feel they made it there by their own success and then want to live in their private spaces (usually single-family homes).
  3. While suburbanites in regular social life might want to avoid confrontation with neighbors, the emphasis on local control in suburbs means that national issues can spark conflict at the local level.

As the article asks, will this issue that touches on what suburbs are crowd out other common election issues like the economy or taxes?

Targeting the right subset of suburban voters for the 2022 midterms

Politicians, strategists, and the media are looking ahead to the 2022 midterm elections. Just like recent elections, the outcome may depend on particular suburbanites:

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That’s one reason Democratic strategists are taking steps now to set the terms of the debate in the midterms. To this end, they say they’ve homed in on a key demographic: suburban women who support President Biden but are at risk of either backing Republicans in 2022 or staying at home.

This demographic is somewhat distinct from the relatively affluent, educated White suburbanite demographic that is often discussed as central to the suburban shift to Democrats in the 2018 and 2020 elections.

Instead, this group is a subset of suburban women who are more likely to be non-college-educated and somewhat less affluent, and tend to be drawn from the working class or lower middle class, or the ranks of small-business owners…

As Sena notes, for Republicans to win the House, they’ll have to win back some suburban voters in areas where Biden did very well. “The very first place Republicans are likely to go will be the suburbs, especially with non-college-educated White women,” Sena told me.

Fighting over suburban voters, and the variations within, is a regular part of American politics. Some suburban voters can go back and forth in their national political preferences and both parties would like to swing them to their side to insure victory.

As the article notes, the messaging has already begun in some parts of the country. It sounds like the ads thus far are for television. With the shift in recent years toward social media and text campaigns, does this suggest operatives are making use of all the possible tools or are particular demographics easier to reach through certain media?

If this is indeed one of the groups to reach for 2022, does this mean we can expect major political personas to make numerous appearances in certain suburban areas throughout the United States? It could be worth tracking which candidates and political figures visit which suburban locations in the next 20 months.