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Defying the Odds

Defying the Odds
New book about the 2016 election.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The Revenge of Suburban Women

In Defying the Odds, we discuss the demographic divides of the 2016 campaign.

To be sure, outlets have reported a handful of high-profile indicators of nationwide civic rumblings: big turnouts to hundreds of Women’s Marches in January 2017, and again a year later, as well as the emergence of a flood of Democratic congressional challengers for 2018, with a record-breaking proportion of women. But there’s a deeper and broader shift powering these indicators, and those who see only nationally visible events may miss it entirely. Far from the bluest strongholds, a huge demographic swathe of forgotten Americans is remaking politics, and it is not the one getting most of the press. The new upsurge is not centered in the progressive urban enclaves where most national pundits live; nor is it to be found among the grizzled men in coal country diners where journalists escape to get out of the bubble. Neither of those poles looks much like most of America anyway. About half the country lives in the suburbs, twice the number who live in either fully urban or rural settings. More than half of Americans are also women— and of those, half are in their thirties to sixties. It is in this Middle America, and among these Middle Americans, that political developments since the November 2016 election have moved fastest and farthest.
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The protagonists of the trends we report on are mainly college-educated suburban white women. We tell their stories not because college-educated white women are the most Democratic slice of the electorate (they aren’t) or because they are the most progressive voices within the Democratic Party (they aren’t) or because they have a special claim to lead the left moving forward (they don’t: nor do they pretend to). Rather, what we report here is that it is among these college-educated, middle-aged women in the suburbs that political practices have most changed under Trump. If your question is how the panorama of political possibility has shifted since November 2016, your story needs to begin here.
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 Again, these local stories have been similar across the country. Regular citizens bitterly disappointed with the 2016 results emerged from what many call a “period of mourning” to start planning activities, coordinated by pairs or trios or handfuls of self-appointed leaders. Some of these sparkplugs already knew one another, while others connected on buses to the 2017 Women’s Marches or “met” online, sometimes facilitated by the PantSuit Nation Facebook group that connected hundreds of thousands of women in anticipation of the first female President. Although men are certainly involved in the local groups that have taken shape since the election, women are indeed very much in the vanguard making up about 70 percent of the participants and most members of the leadership teams.