Suburban women may decide the outcome of the 2020 election

Stacey Newman, a former Missouri state legislator, is the executive director of ProgressWomen, a statewide social justice group focused on justice and equality issues. 

Stacey Newman

Through sheer luck, I belong to one of this year’s most coveted sororities. Our membership is more diverse than ever, encompassing a wide range of ages, education levels, cultural and ethnic backgrounds.

In 2020 we are highly in demand to affect the trajectory of our democracy. Who are we?

The widely-acclaimed Suburban Women, who campaigns are desperately fighting over for our affections.

Political pollsters and presidential campaigns first began to pay serious attention to women voters after the 2000 presidential election when 8.4 million of us voted more than men. But we had been growing as a definitive voting block since 1980 when women first began to show up at the polls in higher percentages. Previously ignored and dismissed by campaigns, the “gender gap” began to receive serious national attention.

By the 2002 midterm elections, research by pollster Celinda Lake for Women’s Voices. Women Vote, a nonpartisan group, focused on unmarried women as a new voter block with untapped political power. Defined as women under 65 who were never married, divorced, widowed or separated, the study identified millions of voters who were not tied to any political party.

During the 2004 presidential election, women voters caught national attention, specifically the “single women” and “soccer moms” (which quickly morphed into “security moms”). Traditional male-run campaigns had no clue how to effectively target these voters and miscalculated their collective influence, as well as the issues women actually cared about.

Fast forward to 2020 when female suburbanites are again front and center as the electoral gender gap is all the rage.

But here’s the kicker. We suburban women can no longer be packaged as Stepford Wives.

As educational and economic levels improved and affected our mobility, our neighborhoods changed dramatically. We identify now as Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Christian as well as non-religious. Our streets and schools reflect numerous ethnicities, skin colors, ages and gender identities. We showed up en masse for the 2017 Women’s March at home and in D.C., linking arms in the largest single day protest in U.S. history, our collective issues at the forefront. Black Lives Matter placards in our communities are as common as garage sale signs.

Suburban women are not who we used to be and are not as silent as we once were. A record number of us ran for local, state and federal office and showed up in unprecedented numbers in the recent midterm elections. In 2018, it was Black women who were not only a monumental force at the polls but a record number who were elected to Congress.

Today women are showing up at city council and school board meetings and participating virtually online in county government. Our voices and sensitivities have risen as we’ve watched our neighbors being attacked under this administration’s Muslim ban and targeted by anti-Semitic synagogue shootings as well as white supremacy marches. We’ve been horrified by senseless police shootings of Black men, women and teens and sickened by government sanctioned separation of immigrant refugee children from their parents.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

Our healthcare, employment and education concerns exploded as keeping our families safe took on a whole new meaning. We have paid close attention to how elected leaders addressed this public health crisis or simply didn’t. Our yards sprouted healthcare hero signs as we’ve worried about our frontline friends and neighbors. We are exhausted and anxious watching the infection rates climb not knowing when a sense of normalcy can return.

Here’s the reality. Suburban women are more of a force than you realize.

We are the majority of volunteers in our schools, churches, mosques, synagogues and community organizations. Our mothers and grandmothers were the force behind the 1950’s Mother’s March of Dimes effort to eradicate the polio epidemic and it was women who galvanized as the 1980’s national Mothers Against Drunk Driving initiative.

Social media and the internet have only sharpened our organizing skills as we women have long been the majority of political campaign volunteers. We are the ones texting, phoning undecided voters and writing postcards. With COVID, we’ve become creative with socially distanced drive-by parades, street corner sign rallies and highway bridge banner waving.

No longer do we vote how our spouses or partners tell us. We’ve done our own homework, thank you very much.

As political commercials swell to a crescendo these last days before the presidential election on Nov. 3, we know exactly for whom they are aimed.

Suburban women: never underestimate our power or influence at the ballot box. Trust us, we know how to get things done.

Stacey Newman, a former Missouri state legislator, is the executive director of ProgressWomen, a statewide social justice group focused on justice and equality issues.