Merge Data Analysis: Suburban Women and the Republican Party

By: Lisa Valentine

This article highlights key findings from a merge analysis conducted by Public Opinion Strategies of all interviews conducted by the firm on national surveys since 2004.  This merge analysis contains more than 100,000 interviews (and growing) and is a valuable tool for tracking demographic and attitudinal shifts over time.  For more information about this merge analysis, please contact us at info@pos.org.

Over the past five years, suburban women have become a larger subgroup in the American electorate.  In 2008, suburban women comprised fully 28% of the overall sample, an increase of six percentage points from 2004, when they made up roughly 22% of the overall sample.

And, while this subgroup has increased in overall size, this demographic has had a gradual shift in party identification, moving closer to the Democratic Party (see table below).

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In 2004, 39% of suburban women were self-identified as Republicans and 44% as Democrats.  In 2009, only 37% of suburban women were self-identified as GOP’ers while 48% were Democrats.  The gap has grown from -5% to -11% in only five short years, which is troubling, since as suburban woman have increased within the electorate, they are moving away from the Republican Party.

This is not to say that there is an inherent Democratic base among suburban women.  In 2004, suburban women had a net positive approval rating of President George W. Bush (50%-47%) and Bush was essentially tied on the ballot test versus Kerry (46%-47%).   Republicans, and George W. Bush in particular, were able to win over these key women voters because the party’s focus was on national security.

However, as the top issue priority has shifted among suburban women from national security/terrorism/war on terror to the economy and healthcare, Bush’s favorability and their overall support of the Republican Party began to deteroriate.  The political environment became more a referendum on domestic issues and Bush’s unfavorability and the Republican Party lost support among suburban women.

In 2004, terrorism and the war in Iraq was the number one concern among suburban women (44%), followed by the economy and jobs (41%).  We have seen a significant shift, and in 2009, only 10% of suburban women listed terrorism and the war in Iraq as their top issue priority, whereas 69% stated their top issue was the economy and jobs.

Who Are Suburban Women in 2009?

Suburban women in 2009 are well-educated (48% college+), tend to have a higher household income (52% earn $60K or more), and are more likely to be married (62%).  Suburban women are slightly more likely to have children than the general population (45% compared to 40%), and are more likely to be “working women” (39%) compared to women in the general population (20%).

These women, while they are starting to skew more Democratic in party ID (37% GOP – 48% DEM) and supported Barack Obama over John McCain in 2008 by twelve points (41% McCain -53% Obama), they still consider themselves more moderate (40%) and conservative (38%) than liberal.

Due to the current economic environment, it is not surprising that the economy and jobs are the top issue priority for these women (69%).  However, if the economy is able to stabilize, it could create an opportunity for Republicans to talk to these women on other key issues.

Bottom Line

Since suburban women are becoming a larger sub-group, the Republican Party needs to find a way to bring them back.  These women are concerned about the economy, health care, and education and we need to create a message that resonates with their concerns.  The focus should be about promoting a strong economy that will bring back jobs and reforming health care to hold down costs, in contrast to policies that are currently being promoted by the Democratic Party in Congress and the Obama Administration.

Along with targeting a message that resonates with these suburban women, the Republican Party still has the opportunity to bring them back by highlighting areas in which the public trusts the Republican Party to do a better job – such as domestic security, national security, controlling government spending, and lowering taxes for middle class families.