Suburbs in Northern Virginia, New York, and New Jersey, among others across the nation, swung for the Democrats in the midterms, securing their control of the House. College-educated white women in these areas are being credited for the win, giving credence to the women’s movements that have dominated the headlines for the past two years. But this is only part of the story.
These women who reside in wealthy suburbs are an odd group. Sometimes they vote on the economy, but their loyalty to the pocketbook only goes so far. If they think their equality is threatened or health care won’t be available to everyone, they’ll abandon the economy in a heartbeat.
In the 2018 midterms, exit polling showed that voters’ main concern was health care—a whopping 40 percent. Immigration came in second at 23 percent, followed by the economy at 21 percent. Given the Republicans’ goal to whittle away at Obamacare and the notion that this will leave people without coverage or access to health care, it’s not surprising that these women weren’t inspired by the economy to keep the Republican agenda going.
Another issue that affects how many women vote is fear of inequality. For two years, activist groups and politicians beat the drum that the Republicans are threatening women’s rights. New Supreme Court justices could mean overturning Roe v. Wade. Free birth control might end with changes in health care. The Me Too movement created an environment of fear that men are predators, especially those in the Republican Party.
The rhetoric of Trump as sexual deviant in chief filled the pages of women’s magazines. Protests, pussy hats, celebrities wailing about the dehumanization of women even as they objectified themselves rained down on female voters, enlivening their allegiance to equality, even when it’s not actually being threatened.
These two issues, along with hatred of Trump, drove these women to vote blue. They despise Trump, and they always have. They voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, 51 percent to Trump’s 45 percent. Some were Never-Trumper Republicans going for other candidates. They are, at the core, elitist. They didn’t like him then, and they don’t like him now.
Their feelings about Trump negated any objective judgment of his job performance or recognition that his policies and programs have benefited them greatly, including a strong economy and greater security for our nation. Emotionalism won the day.
In 2012, Mitt Romney won this group over Obama by six points because they had catapulted the economy to the top of their concerns. Many college-educated wealthy white women weren’t swayed by the war on women narrative at that time, nor were they concerned about health care as much, although it was still high on the list. They weren’t too worried; after all, Romney had instituted government health subsidies in Massachusetts.
Romney also soothed their elitist sensibilities. He was dignified. Their feelings could take a back seat to objective concerns because those fires weren’t stoked effectively enough to deter them. This wasn’t true for all women at that time. Some were swayed by the “binders full of women” attack, but not all.
This changed both in 2016 when they supported Clinton and even more significantly in 2018 when they flooded the polls to usher in a Democratic House majority. As reported by Ronald Brownstein just before the midterms, “Over two-thirds of college-educated white women, an unprecedented number, said they planned to vote Democratic for Congress, according to figures provided by CNN polling director Jennifer Agiesta.”
But they weren’t the only ones. College-educated suburban white men who were also offended by Trump’s behavior showed up to kick out Republicans. “Just over half of college-educated white men preferred Democrats in the survey,” Brownstein wrote. “That represents a sharp swing from their usual congressional voting behavior: Democrats haven’t won even 40% percent of college-educated white men in any congressional election since 2008, according to exit polls.”
This combination of elitist voters who can go Republican under some circumstances but will vote Democratic if they’re offended or worried about inequities made a difference in key suburbs.
Additionally, some of the congressional districts that had previously been favorable to Republicans because they were mostly rural—a stronghold for Trump—were redrawn to include wealthy suburbs, shifting the vote Democratic. As reported by USA Today, a fifth of the districts now under control of the Democrats had been redrawn in Pennsylvania.
The changes weren’t trivial: Democrats increased their share of the vote by an average of 20 percent in the districts they flipped in the Keystone State. The biggest change came in the 5th congressional district, a sprawling, mostly rural district in central Pennsylvania. Democrats won an anemic 33 percent there in 2016. In 2018, with the new boundaries in place, they won over 65 percent of the vote.
The suburban slaughter in the midterms, therefore, can be attributed to three things: motivated college-educated white women who put their fears about women’s issues and health care over economic and national security; both college-educated white women and men who are personally offended by Trump’s personality and rhetoric; and redrawing of district lines to include these groups to curb Republican advantages.
It’s uncertain if Trump can do anything to attract these voters. Probably not. That ship has likely sailed. The best he can do is shore up his base for the next election. The rest of us—conservative women in particular, who don’t vote by feelings and unfounded fears—need to step up. It falls on our shoulders to educate our suburban sisters about the role of government in their lives, the dangers of government-run health care, and the lies of feminism regarding “inequalities” in America.