No matter where you venture along the northern fringe of metro Los Angeles, whether it’s the bustling suburbs of the Democratic-leaning San Fernando Valley or the more conservative towns that nestle in the russet-hued canyons to the north and east, you’ll find people who say they have good reason to sing the blues for their country.
They’re feeling weighed down by the onslaught of inflation, cultural conflicts and assaults on the electoral process. They fear that Americans — left, right and center — have given up trying to understand or sympathize with one another.
And they hold elected officials and political candidates responsible for sowing distrust among Americans and eroding faith in democratic institutions.
Who exactly will these suburbanites vote for at the national and local levels or will they choose not to vote? One poll suggests some change among white suburban women:
The GOP has seen a shift in its favor among several voter groups, including Latino voters and women, and particularly white suburban women. That group, which the pollsters said makes up 20% of the electorate, shifted 26 percentage points away from Democrats since the Journal’s August poll and now favors the GOP by 15 percentage points.
As in previous elections, suburbanites might sway the outcomes. Both parties have aimed their messages, at least in part, toward suburban voters who are both a sizable percentage of the electorate and where more voters might be open to shifting their votes.
The article goes on to discuss reasons why voters may not have felt very motivated to vote in this primary. How many of these reasons – summer voting, lack of interesting races, limited midterm turnout – explicitly affect suburbanites? Summer vacations are a marker of middle-class and above suburban lives but how many of them overlap with the late June 28 voting day? Do suburbanites need more contested races than other voters? Do suburbanites not feel the pressure of midterms or only pay attention in the presidential cycles when there is more at stake amid their busy day-to-day suburban life?
Those candidates and actors that can inspire suburbanites to get to the polls and vote may just get the winning edge.
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!”
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.
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.
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.
ON THE FRINGES of greater Paris, where urban concrete meets farmed fields, lies the suburb of Saint-Brice-sous-Forêt. Gently curved streets of two-storey houses, each with a parking space and garage, cover what were once apple and pear orchards. The narrow high street has just one café, and a “Cheesy Pizza” takeaway joint; but there is a drive-in Burger King on the outskirts. This is what the mayor, Nicolas Leleux, calls “the border of two universes”: city and countryside. It captures the worries and hopes of middle France, and exemplifies a crucial electoral battleground for April’s presidential poll.
Shy of extremes, the suburb tilts to the centre-right. In 2017 Saint-Brice-sous-Forêt preferred the centre-right presidential candidate, François Fillon, in the first round, but backed the centrist Emmanuel Macron against the nationalist Marine Le Pen in the second. In 2020 it replaced a centre-right mayor with Mr Leleux, a former navy submariner who belongs to Mr Macron’s party. Locals, in other words, may be torn at the presidential poll this time between a vote for Mr Macron, assuming he runs for re-election, and his centre-right rival, Valérie Pécresse. A well-known figure locally, she is the president of the Ile-de-France region, which encompasses the city of Paris itself and Saint-Brice-sous-Forêt, 17 kilometres (11 miles) away…
What comes into sharpest relief in Saint-Brice is the collision between the needs of daily life, notably the car, and the desire for a greener future. A place of quiet middle-of-the-road aspiration, it evokes what Mr Leleux calls the “French dream”. “People have left the city to come here, not to live in a tower block, but in a house with a little garden, with neighbours, and a place to barbecue.” Nearly 88% of households own at least one car. His task, he explains, is to reconcile that dream with the need to reduce car usage. Few can afford an electric vehicle. Mr Leleux is planning cycle lanes and building a bike shelter at the railway station, on a direct line to Paris. Yet on a cold day in January there are no cycles to be seen on the streets…
Fashionable Parisian talk of the ideal “15-minute city” is all very well, says Mr Leleux. The reality is that to buy a baguette in under 15 minutes without a car is not possible in much of suburbia. If anybody has learned this, it ought to be Mr Macron, who won a huge majority of the vote in big cities in 2017, but later faced months of gilets jaunes protests. For now, insists the mayor, locals credit the president nonetheless with having been a “good captain” in difficult times. In April, it is on the streets of middle France, not the parquet-floored salons of Paris or its tenements, that such a claim will be tested.
The focus in this analysis is on cars as a divisive political issue. Can suburbanites afford electric cars? If they cannot, what does this mean for suburban life? I could imagine a similar question in the United States with numerous manufacturers moving to electric vehicles
But, I wonder if the electric car is just a symptom of deeper differences based on how the car factors into the fabric of suburban life. In the United States, I have argued that homes, cars, and a way of life are all connected in suburbia. It is not just that a new kind of car is expensive; any disruption to driving changes suburban life. Cars help enable larger yards, private space, and separated land uses. People want amenities to be within a 15 minute drive and this significantly widens their travel radius compared to walking.
With election results from Virginia, New Jersey, and other races coming in this week, a narrative about recent elections continue: suburban voters continue to sway elections. Here are the suburban patterns I have seen and heard observers discuss:
-Enthusiasm among suburban Democrats was down in 2021 compared to 2020.
-Suburbanites were worried and/or angry about schools, whether that was for prolonged closures due to COVID-19 or concerns over curriculum and administrator control as opposed to parents.
-While Biden won over more suburban independent voters, enough tilted back to Republicans in these elections.
-This is a backlash involving race where white voters are exercising their influence.
In adding suburbia to the Democratic base, it turned out, Madigan also created a party that would no longer tolerate his Chicago ward boss style of leadership.
“Suburbanites tend to be less enamored of machine politics,” said Christopher Z. Mooney, a professor of political science at the University of Illinois-Chicago. “Machine politics is about one thing: getting jobs. Suburban voters tend to be more concerned about corruption. They’re a little better off,” and thus don’t need the government jobs political bosses can dole out…
While many suburban representatives had benefited from Madigan’s operation, the ComEd scandal marked the moment that “a limit had been reached,” Mooney said. “They felt that his usefulness was over. The fact that they were from the suburbs allowed them to have some cover. Madigan’s political tentacles are more effective in the city of Chicago or Cook County.”…
Suburbanites haven’t just changed the way politics is conducted within the Democratic Party, they’ve also made certain issues more important to the party. Abortion, for instance. In the 1980s, the Catholic Madigan declared himself “100% pro-life.” In 2019, he supported the Reproductive Health Act, which ensured that abortion will be legal in Illinois if Roe v. Wade is overturned, and declares that a “fetus does not have independent rights under the laws of this state.”
The explanations here suggest the changes in suburbs have had significant consequences for politics. As noted above, corruption turns off suburban voters – who often like the idea of more virtuous smaller local government – and there are more pro-choice suburban voters.
I could imagine several other factors involving suburbia that have influenced this change:
The suburbs have changed in demographic composition. There are now different kinds of suburban residents, including more racial and ethnic minorities and more lower-income residents. The whiter and wealthier suburbs still exist in places but so does more complex suburbia. The suburban voters today are not just more educated whites.
While the comparison above is between Chicago style politics and suburban politics, I wonder how suburbanites view the big city more broadly as compared to the past. Are more suburbanites interested in life in denser communities with more cultural opportunities (even if they are in the suburbs)? How essential is Chicago to the region and state compared to all of the activity – business, cultural, civically – in the suburbs?
The suburbs have always been competitive political territory, but they have taken on a different significance with urban and rural voters spinning further and further away from one another. Last December, a top Democratic operative laid out for me one way of thinking about the party’s future: Had Democrats just rented the suburbs under Trump, or do they own them? The suburbs’ highly educated, middle-class, family-oriented, moderate, predominantly white, and (in terms of actual swing votes) mostly women voters may be ready to stick with the Democratic Party for the long haul. But just in case, McAuliffe and his fellow Democrats are doing their best to make sure that the former president is still a part of this year’s elections.
The battle for suburban voters continues (most recent posts on the topic here and here).
While Trump is the focus here, this seems to continue a pattern employed by both parties in recent years: tie local or state issues to who the parties think are disliked national figures. Democrats want to tie Republicans to Trump, Republicans want to tie Democrats to Nancy Pelosi. While these national figures might have some influence over more local contexts, there are also important local issues to consider.
Now, as recall ballots are dropping in mailboxes, children are returning to school amid heated battles over mask mandates and skyrocketing cases of the highly transmissible Delta variant. Leaders of the effort to remove Newsom for office are confident that women, exasperated by the effect of Newsom’s policies on their children, are the reason they will prevail.
“It’s gas on the fire,” said Anne Hyde Dunsmore, campaign manager for Rescue California, one of the main recall groups. “The whole time, it’s probably the single biggest ingredient in the campaign, in our success.”
Newsom “didn’t understand mad moms, which are the same as soccer moms,” Dunsmore said, referring to the pivotal group of suburban female voters. “Don’t piss off mommy.”
Newsom and his allies agree that these women are critical, but they point to polling that shows that well over a majority of the state’s women approve Newsom’s handling of the pandemic. If these women turn out, they will be a major factor in helping the governor retain his job.
Multiple recent election cycles have included efforts to sway suburban women. These two labels seem particularly aimed at suburban women, not all women in California or the United States. The two major political parties both think they can convince enough suburban women to care about their priority issues under the right conditions (examples here and here) and the suburbs are the spaces where elections are won or lost.
The shift from the “soccer moms” label that goes back decades to “mad moms” in mid-2021 could be worth examining further. In the label itself, soccer moms referred to driving kids to and from local practices. They cared about the future of their children and their communities. Mad moms suggests women are fed up with what is happening and/or what the future might hold for their families and communities. Especially in 2021, anger can be a powerful mobilizing force in politics.
Presumably, the mad moms are conservative women who want different political outcomes. For the women of California who disagree with their perspective, what is an apt moniker for the other side?
“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:
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).