The Eternal Myth of a White Woman Democratic Wave

Illustration for article titled The Eternal Myth of a White Woman Democratic Wave
Image: Brendan Smialowski (Getty Images)

Last week, President Trump made his pitch to the white women of suburbia, vowing to protect them from the lower class hordes that threaten their way of life.

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“I am happy to inform all of the people living their Suburban Lifestyle Dream that you will no longer be bothered or financially hurt by having low-income housing built in your neighborhood,” Trump tweeted. “Your housing prices will go up based on the market, and crime will go down. I have rescinded the Obama-Biden AFFH Rule. Enjoy!”

Though he didn’t explicitly mention them, the statement felt aimed at white women. White women are perceived as uniquely susceptible to crime, the vulnerable protectors of the suburban homestead. Trump relied on his favorite dog whistle, invoking a black and brown specter waiting to disrupt, dismantle, and destroy the innocent white livelihood and white femininity. Only he and his policies can prevent such disorder.

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But this threat isn’t the sell it might have once been, and not simply because the suburbs have long been far less white—and less economically stable—than the Trump administration lets on. According to national polling, Joe Biden is making a dent in Trump’s popularity with white women. In June, an ABC/Washington Post survey indicated that Trump’s support among white women without college degrees has dropped from 2016, from 61 percent to 50 percent; according to the survey, Biden trailed Trump by 6 points with this group. A mid-July Quinnipiac poll showed that Biden leading by a greater margin than Hillary Clinton’s final number in 2016 among white women (55 percent to Clinton’s 38 percent). And according to the New York Times, there is what the paper describes as a “white flight” from Trump to Biden.

White women have long been described as swing voters. No election cycle is complete without Democrats breathlessly vying for the support of white women of the suburbs, complete with pundits speculating on the best ways to court them. This image is inaccurate, built on a lie that white women are far more ideologically malleable than they truly are. In reality, the Republican Party has long been able to rely on white women to align with their politics and their vision of a better tomorrow more like the past. Since 1952, only two presidential elections have featured a majority of white women voting Democrat: 1964 with Lyndon B. Johnson and 1996 with Bill Clinton. Break up white women by region, education, age, and formative boy band all you want—these breakdowns reveal a variety of political biases and trends. But election after election, while women as a whole usually vote Democrat, white women almost always vote Republican.

This was no different in 2016. Though the fact a plurality of white women aligned with Trump was portrayed as a shocking outcome, it was a continuation of the norm. Donald Trump’s history of misogyny and numerous allegations of sexual misconduct did little to sway white women away from messages that were far more appealing to them: A war on undocumented immigrants, a purge of the old guard, and a restoration of white hegemony in an increasingly non-white country. Power.

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But as the 2020 election nears, white women have seemingly begun to sour on Trump. Whether it was because he was unable to quench this power grab or because they’ve finally realized just how incompetent his administration has been is unclear and maybe even irrelevant. What’s relevant is that Trump, his administration, and the Republican Party are scared. And when they’re scared, they crank the Terrify-The-White-Suburbanites meter up to 10. Hence Trump’s recent Twitter pitches to the neo-soccer mom. Or, as Joe Biden calls them, “Facebook Empathy Moms.”

She might be well educated, she might not be. She could live paycheck to paycheck or comfortably. Regardless of her class background, she’s white, she’s female, she lives outside of a major metropolitan area, and she’s—hopefully—voting Republican.

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Trump’s 2020 pitch, however, lacks confidence, a far cry from the unfappable buffoonery that riddled his campaign rallies during his last presidential run. During a rally in West Texas on Wednesday, Trump echoed his tweets from earlier that day. From the New York Times:

Mr. Trump bragged again that he had ended a government program that tries to reduce segregation in suburban areas.

“People fight all of their lives to get into the suburbs and have a beautiful home,” he said. “There will be no more low-income housing forced into the suburbs.”

“It’s been hell for suburbia,” he added, before telling the audience to “enjoy your life, ladies and gentlemen.”

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One week prior, Trump tweeted a New York Post article that lambasted Biden’s position on affordable housing developments in suburbs.

“The Suburban Housewives of America must read this article,” Trump wrote. “Biden will destroy your neighborhood and your American Dream. I will preserve it, and make it even better!”

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That Trump sounds unhinged on social media isn’t new. Trump sounding desperate, however, is.

Still, the left should still take these polls with a grain of salt. Biden might be the first Democrat in 25 years to win a majority of white women’s votes, but it could very well be a fluke rather than a reliable pattern of white women’s values and political motivators shifting. Besides, we’ve heard claims that white women can be captured en masse before, by Hillary Clinton in 2016. Even in October 2016, a Politico article was clamoring about the exodus of white working-class women from the “Trump train.” Others spoke of polls indicating women were propelling Clinton in key battleground states. Of course, this didn’t exactly pan out by November.

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In a recent piece for Vanity Fair, writer Jodi Edna spoke to white working-class women from former Democratic strongholds in Pennsylvania for several months, and found that while their support for Trump is more likely to waver compared to their male counterparts, many still remain loyal to him:

In this historically Democratic bastion, where coal once ruled and black-and-white photos of JFK still adorn walls, women who voted for Trump show few signs of wavering. They applaud his brusque demeanor, or they don’t. They support his right-wing policies, or they don’t. It doesn’t matter. They think Democrats have persecuted him without justification, believe he’s doing everything possible to combat COVID-19, and generally support his “law-and-order” response to what are likely the most pervasive protests in U.S. history. They have faith that he has the business acumen to reinvigorate the economy. Mainly, they have faith in him.

They support Trump because they like him. Actually, the word many of them use is “love.”

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White women might be turning on Trump, but are they turning on the Republican party too? Biden may have convinced the “Facebook Empathy Moms” that he’s their guy, but will they become Democrats in the process? And what can be done about the many white women who are happy to keep Trump around, covid-19 bungling, fear-mongering, race-baiting and all? Only time will tell, but nevertheless, Democrats see blood in the water, and Republicans are doing everything they can to mop up the mess before it’s too late.

Staff writer, mint chocolate hater.

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DISCUSSION

septembergrrl2
septembergrrl

As a white woman, I wish we had a better strategy for changing this than crossing our fingers and wishing it would stop being true. I try to talk to white Republican women when I get the chance (which, to be honest, isn’t that much in my daily life — most of the people I know are either liberal or don’t talk about it if they aren’t), but it feels like we’re on totally different wavelengths and planets. Things that were huge scandals in their social media bubbles were barely blips in mine, and vice versa.

For what it’s worth, it seems like the single biggest factor stopping white Republican women from voting for Democrats is abortion. That’s the “but”they give as a reason after they say Trump is putrid, McConnell is useless, they worry about racism, etc. And I don’t know how we argue with that; I’ve seen adults change their minds on many other things, but almost never on the basic question of whether a woman’s right to choose outweighs a fetus’s right to be born. (To be clear, I’m in favor of as few legal restrictions on abortion as possible.) 

What I am curious about is how nonwhite women reconcile the contradiction between a religious belief in the sanctity of life, which is pretty common in most Christian denominations, with voting for Democrats. If we can convince white women to share that reasoning, we might see some real gains. Until then ... I dunno. Cross our fingers, I guess?