US election 2020: Why suburban white women are so important to deciding the result

·6-min read

Donald Trump has been making increasingly desperate pleas to one crucial group of voters - but America's "suburban housewives" seem determined to send him packing from the White House.

The US president's last-minute appeals - and even his use of the phrase "suburban housewives" - appear to have backfired spectacularly in the closing weeks of the presidential race.

Polls show that Joe Biden leads Mr Trump among suburban white women by almost double-figures - and that was a group the president won in 2016.

While women who opposed Mr Trump four years ago had already mobilised blooming grassroots activist movements, many of those who originally supported him are now abandoning the president.

Kate Rabinovitch voted Republican in the swing state of Ohio in 2016, but will vote Democrat this time. She said: "When Joe Biden wins this election, it'll be because of suburban women."

How has Trump lost support of women?

On the day after Mr Trump's inauguration in 2017, millions of people took part in marches across the US in protest at the president's treatment of women. But millions of American women had voted for him in the election. Notably, a large number of white women, and those in the suburbs, had fallen his way.

The mid-term elections in 2018, and the so-called "blue wave" of Democrat wins, revealed women and the suburbs deserting the president's agenda and that has continued in this year's campaign.

Many who voted for him, hoping he would pivot to a more presidential style in office, have been disappointed by his rhetoric. His response to the COVID-19 pandemic and pressure for a reckoning on racial inequality have been the final straw.

Groups like "Red, Wine and Blue" in Ohio have sprung up among women who are fed-up with the words and actions of their president. The wine part, founder Katie Paris says, is the fun way for women to get together and figure out problems.

"So many of us are moms and we're just worried about the future. We see the country through the eyes of our children, in whom we're trying to instil good values of respect for one another, kindness in how you treat people every day and we don't see that reflected in the president of the United States," she says.

"We cannot even have him on TV if the children are in the room."

How has Trump tried to win women voters?

He hasn't bothered with subtlety. In recent rallies he has implored "suburban women" to "please like me".

In Michigan he told them he was "getting their husbands back to work".

He has repeated a message of ensuring safety and security in the suburbs, which, he says, is a contrast to what a Biden presidency would bring. Mr Trump says he is "saving suburbia" and protecting communities.

Why are Trump's appeals not working?

See above.

Many women in the suburbs resent being lumped together as a single voting bloc and, bearing in mind more women have lost their jobs in the pandemic than men, are angry at the suggestion it is just their husbands who go out to work.

The safety and security message, coupled with Mr Trump's rolling back of an Obama-era policy aimed at encouraging low-income housing, has gone down badly.

"Many of the appeals have been very blatant racist dog whistles," said Katie Paris. "Suburban women are not all white, we're diverse in the suburbs and that's something we love. It shows a complete disconnection.

"When he refers to women who live in the suburbs as housewives, it's like we're some kind of 1950s figment of his imagination."

What do Trump's former supporters believe now?

In 2016, they say, it was a distrust of politicians, a dislike of Hillary Clinton and a hope for some business pragmatism that drove many to vote Trump.

Thera Parks did. A mother-of-six, she says she is better informed this time, and is tired after four years of the president.

"If my nine-year-old behaved how he behaves, he'd be expelled from school. He's a bully, he makes fun of people, talks down to them, the racism, it's horrible," she says.

Recent developments have confirmed her feelings: "The pandemic was my 'I can't stand you' moment. He's supposed to care about everybody, not just the states that support him."

Kate Rabinovitch, a first-time voter in 2016, says becoming a mother has changed her perceptions. Race and the pandemic for her too were decisive.

She said: "The George Floyd thing happened pretty much in succession to the pandemic and that was my emotional breaking point, just realising how dangerous Trump being in office was, realising that our kids are not safe in the world we elected him to build."

They are being welcomed by those who have never been fans of the president. Susan Polakoff Shaw founded a group called Grass Roots Resistance - "GRR" is pronounced "Grrrrrr" - in her frustration at Mr Trump's election.

She says women have engineered political change at all levels of American society since 2016. She isn't surprised the president's pleas have fallen flat.

"They have seen the reality of who this person really is. You know the saying, 'When someone shows you who they are, believe them'? I think they're believing it now, they've seen how he behaves, how he treats women. It was a wake-up call for a lot of women," she said.

Her colleague Nora Kelly drives us along Granton Street in the West Park suburb of Cleveland. The lawns are festooned with rival Trump and Biden signs - one house has both.

Mr Trump's recent pleas, she says, were doomed to fail: "It's a fundamental misunderstanding of who we are as a society in terms of the role women play in the workforce, in the communities, in terms of being key opinion leaders and decision makers."

So, will 'suburban women' decide the election?

All of them are wary of the polls, especially after the experience of 2016.

Robin Green, who voted for Hillary Clinton then, has become more active politically. She said: "Suburban women let us down in 2016." This time, she says: "I think we got it."

If Mr Biden's lead among women in the polls - currently more than 20 percentage points - were to become a reality, it would represent a record-breaking gender gap in presidential history.

And America's women will have delivered a damning verdict on Donald Trump.