In 2016, Michelle Fitting, a 50-year-old registered Republican in suburban Philadelphia, decided not to vote for any of the candidates because she strongly disliked Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.
“My reasoning at the time was how bad it could be,” she said, referring to the possibility of a Trump presidency. “Now I clearly understand how serious this can be.”
This time, Ms Fitting is voting for Democrat Joe Biden, even if it means reversing some favorable policies, like Trump’s tax cuts. “I’d rather pay the extra taxes and have someone in there that I can respect and admire.”
In the final months of the race, Mr. Trump has increasingly targeted suburban women like Ms. Fitting, a demographic his campaign believes he must win to stay in the White House. The president won a majority of white women in 2016, but that support has eroded over the past four years, with national polls showing Mr. Trump now faces a 12-30 point gender gap among all. the voters.
The president’s campaign has attempted to bridge the gap with a direct public order message designed to appeal to what he calls “America’s suburban housewives.” He says he’s the only thing stopping the race-related protests that erupted in some U.S. cities earlier this summer from spreading to the suburbs.
To hear from our president. . . aligning with white supremacists is much scarier for me
Mr Trump also touted his administration’s overthrow of an Obama-era fair housing rule, saying the change destroyed the suburbs by paving the way for an influx of poorer residents that led to an increase in housing. crime and a decline in property values. Critics say these claims are racist “dog whistles”.
No one seems more aware of his fallen position among the population than Mr. Trump himself. “Women of the suburbs, will you love me?” The president pleaded Tuesday in Johnston, Pennsylvania, at one of his first rallies since being hospitalized with Covid-19. “I saved your bloody neighborhood. OKAY?”
However, Kathleen Dolan, professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, said that even the use of the term “suburban women” by the Trump campaign was outdated because it carried a racial and socio-economic connotation that did not reflect not the demographic composition. of today’s suburbs.
A Monmouth University poll in September found that three in four Americans and four in five American women believed it was important to have more racially integrated neighborhoods.
“The president and the campaign abuse the term [suburban women] because they don’t seem to understand how the suburbs have diversified, ”Ms. Dolan said.
Liz Kaminetz, 48, a former Republican from the Philadelphia suburb who changed her party affiliation in 2016, said she did not recognize the suburb described by Mr Trump, noting that most of her neighbors supported the Black Lives Matter movement.
“To hear from our president. . . aligning with white supremacists is a lot scarier for me, ”she said, referring to Mr. Trump’s instructions to the white nationalist group Proud Boys during last month’s debate, to whom he told to“ take a step back and be ready ”.
Nan Whaley, the Democratic mayor of Dayton, Ohio, said Mr. Trump considered the suburbs to be “the Richard Nixon suburb” of the 1960s when they were predominantly white and segregated. “The suburbs are a lot more diverse now – it’s not just white women.”
At the time of the 2010 census, about 35% of suburban residents were non-Caucasian, up from just 19% in 1990.
Ms Whaley said the way Mr Trump was handling the pandemic had also caused some suburban Republican women to reassess him. “If you’re a suburban woman worried about your kids, given all the shit we put on women during Covid, you can’t say things are getting better.”
Deborah Spencer, a Republican voter from Blacksburg, Va. Who voted for Mr Trump in 2016, said she was still torn over how to vote in November, a feeling she had not had before.
While she personally dislikes Mr. Trump, describing him as “selfish” and “stubborn,” she believed he “did the job,” or at least he had been until the pandemic.
“What he should have done is wear a mask and take [the virus] seriously, ”she said.
Mr. Trump’s declining popularity among suburban women is just one example of a growing gender divide in American politics. A September poll in Iowa found that Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden were tied overall, but the Republican led by 21 points with the men and the Democrat by 20 points with the women.
“I don’t know if there is a run in the history of the presidential poll in Iowa that shows this kind of division,” Ann Selzer, the veteran pollster who conducted the investigation, told Des Moines Register. at the time.
However, polls show the majority of registered Republican women still plan to vote for Mr. Trump in the next election.
Patti Singer, a conservative voter from Marietta, Georgia, said Mr. Trump might come across as “a bit of a bully”, for example during the first debate, but that she supported his policies. “I’m not a Trump fan as a person, but he kept his word. I support all who believe in law and order. “
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At the same time, political scientists have pointed to Mr. Trump’s explosive rhetoric and viewed bullying as two of the main deterrents for this segment of the electorate.
After the first presidential debate, Patty Kish, a 61-year-old Republican who lives in suburban Virginia, said she “saw no way” to vote for Mr. Trump, whom she supported in 2016.
However, just two weeks later, she had doubts. Watching the confirmation hearings of Amy Coney Barrett, Mr. Trump’s Supreme Court candidate, reminded her why she was a Republican, she said. And polls suggesting Democrats could sweep the White House and both Houses of Congress have worried her about what the party could do with so much power.
“I’m afraid I will lose the House, we will lose the Senate and we may need a check. And it can be, as horrible as it sounds, to have Trump in place for more than four years, ”she added.
Right now, she weighs two choices: vote for Mr. Trump or not vote for the president at all. “I might not make my decision until the day of. The way this world is who knows what might happen?
Additional reporting by Demetri Sevastopulo in Washington
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