The Ripon Forum

Volume 43, No. 3

Summer 2009 Issue

Minivan Moms and the GOP

By on December 3, 2015

by CHRISTINE L. MATTHEWS

They’ve been called soccer moms, minivan moms, and security moms, and 2010 may bring yet another moniker for married women with children. But however they may be branded, there is one label that increasingly doesn’t fit them: Republican.

In 2004, this cohort was considered a key turn-out group by the Bush campaign team and is credited with helping to re-elect George W. Bush with 56 percent of their vote. However, by 2006, they were considered “in play” by both parties, and by 2008, they had shifted toward Democrats.

In the 2008 election, married moms and dads had a 13 point gender gap: Married women with children voted for Barack Obama by a 51-47 percent margin, while married dads voted for John McCain by nine points. In suburbs everywhere, couples were waging battle over whose bumper sticker to put on the minivan.

As a member of the minivan mom contingent (actually, Volvo wagon mom), as well as a Republican pollster, I have both personal and professional interest in the party’s slide among this key demographic group.

The Republican Party’s slippage with married women with children is concurrent with the party’s slide in the suburbs. The suburbs went red in 2000 and 2004, but voted for Barack Obama in 2008. The suburban vote represents an increasing share of the electorate (nearly 50 percent, which is up 6 percent since 2000) and holds the key to election outcomes. Typically, rural and urban areas have cancelled each other out: the shrinking rural vote is overwhelmingly red, while urban voters are reliably blue.

The Republican Party’s slippage with married women with children is concurrent with the party’s slide in the suburbs.

Unfortunately, the Republican message continues to be geared to the 21 percent of the electorate in rural America – rather than the vast majority of Americans who live in the increasingly diverse mix found in suburbia and cities.

Democrats made and continue to make a concerted effort to play in the suburbs, and are hitting their stride with suburban moms, while the GOP seems increasingly out of touch. One of my mom friends (married to a diehard Republican) recoils when she sees the label “G.O.P.” which, she says, always reminds her of “G.O.B” (for Good ole boy).

Republicans, with some notable exceptions, seem to have lost the ability to appeal to these voters with a mix of pragmatic conservatism that contains an intellectual idea driven component. Instead, many of our messengers seem to be selling a hateful blend of “us vs. them” or “evil vs. moral and ideological purity.” This does not play well in suburbia, and it does not play well with the women who live there.

Having Sarah Palin on the ticket in 2008 did not help Republicans with suburban moms. In an NBC News/WSJ poll taken right before the 2008 election, women were split by where they lived on Palin: women in suburbs viewed her unfavorably (37 percent favorable – 54 percent unfavorable), while small town/rural women had an opposite view (54 percent favorable – 37 percent unfavorable). Suburban men, on the other hand, split evenly on the former Alaska Governor, while small town/rural men were generally positive.

For many swing voters, Sarah Palin has more in common with reality TV than the reality of their own lives. While she will not attract these women back to the party, there are surely Republican women who understand the concerns and lives of many of these married moms who would be appealing candidates and could help the party win these women back. This is a key time for recruiting candidates, and every effort should be made to reach out to this group of women to find community, school, and business leaders who could be appealing candidates.

For many swing voters, Sarah Palin has more in common with reality TV than the reality of their own lives.

For many women with families at home, the cost is too high to consider running for office. But these women are exactly the kind we need right now. They are also less likely than men to think of themselves as potential candidates, and they are less likely to be recruited to run for office, according to Brown University’s Citizen Political Ambition Study. So, GOP party leaders may need to work a little harder to find these women and spend more time encouraging them to run.

In late June, the Republican National Committee announced its Women’s Interactive Network encouraging state parties to develop women’s programs. While it’s a fine idea to set up a sales force, the more important focus should be on finding the ideas, policies, message and messengers that will give them a good product.

After all, if you have a good product, the customers will come. RF

Christine L. Matthews is the founder and president of Bellwether Research and Consulting (http://bellwether-research.com/)

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