In A Polarized Election, 'Guardian Women' Could Be Key Swing Voters A new survey identifies a swing group of women voters, who are mostly white, married, over 50 and suburban. They're evenly divided and sure to vote, watching the candidates respond to multiple crises.

In A Polarized Election, 'Guardian Women' Could Be Key Swing Voters

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Now, both parties believe that November's election is going to be decided by which side turns out in greater numbers. And because the country is so polarized right now, there are few left to be persuaded. But a new survey has identified what could be a key swing group among women. Here's NPR's Mara Liasson.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: American women have borne the brunt of the COVID crisis. It's increased their burden of care. They've lost their jobs in greater numbers than men. Lauren Leader, who runs a nonpartisan group called All in Together, wanted to find out how the pandemic was affecting women's political views and their willingness to vote in November. So she surveyed a thousand women - a pretty big sample - and what she found was that 26%, more than a quarter of the women surveyed, were swing voters.

LAUREN LEADER: What we found in this poll is that there is, again, a group of women that are on the fence, that have split their vote over the years, have gone back and forth between voting Democrat and Republican, you know, much like the soccer moms and the security moms in previous elections.

LIASSON: And now, in addition to the pandemic, these women are watching how their leaders respond to racism and social unrest. There's a throughline for all of these groups of swing women voters, says Sue Carroll, a political scientist at the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. As they go back and forth in their political affiliation, these women are all looking for the same thing - security, for their families and their communities, starting with the soccer moms of the 1990s.

SUSAN CARROLL: Then they became - after 9/11, in the Bush era - they came to be called security moms because this time they were focused on keeping their children safe and their families safe.

LIASSON: Back then, the threat was terrorism. Today's swing voters - Leader calls them guardian women - want to protect their families from the pandemic and the recession, and they're providing more care for parents and relatives than they did before. They're women like Elizabeth Lee, who lives in Minneapolis and works in an elementary school.

ELIZABETH LEE: One of my children did lose his job but has the privilege of unemployment. As for the health, that makes me concerned for my elderly parents. They're 85 years old and still in the same house that I grew up in. I mean, thank goodness they're not in a nursing home or anything like that. But we do worry about them.

LIASSON: Guardian women are generally white and suburban. They're mostly married, a little older than average, with incomes over $50,000, and they do not have college degrees. In 2012, these women split their vote almost evenly between Obama and Romney. In 2016, they split again between Trump and Clinton. In this new poll, they favored Joe Biden but only by 3 points. Sandy Dailey, who's 74 and lives in Nebraska, voted for President Trump, but...

SANDY DAILEY: I definitely won't vote for him again. He's just not a president. He's just not - at all.

LIASSON: Like some other women and seniors who've soured on Trump, Dailey points to Trump's behavior during the pandemic and in the aftermath of George Floyd's killing.

DAILEY: He just comes up with some of the most off-the-wall things. The other night, holding the Bible - I was thinking that maybe he was going to hold the Bible and say a prayer for our nation. I just didn't imagine it was for a photo shoot. I was so disappointed.

LIASSON: Then there's Terri Olsen, who manages a dental office in Onalaska, Wis. She voted for Trump, too, but now she's undecided, even though her main issue - the lockdown - is one that Trump has been pushing.

TERRI OLSEN: I think that the shutdown of the country has devastated so many people, and it's going to for a long time. So I think it's very important that whoever is voted is going to definitely do something about that. I think that shutting down everything was a mistake.

LIASSON: Terri thinks that Trump would be better on the economy than Biden, but she says Trump's bullying style has pushed her into the undecided column.

OLSEN: The pandemic has kind of pushed me more to the middle. The rioting and that whole situation has pushed me more to the middle. It just seems like everything is getting more divided, and I guess I'm looking for someone to unify us and to make me confident that they're going to do something about our economy.

LIASSON: Twelve percent of the guardian women in the poll are undecided, and when pushed, more of them still lean to Trump. So the president has a chance to win some of these women back. And according to Lauren Leader, it's probably worth a try.

LEADER: Across the board, what we're seeing is that despite the enormous stresses on women's lives right now, they are undeterred when it comes to participating in November. Ninety percent of them agreed that their vote matters now more than ever to make sure the United States goes in the right direction. And we need to watch them. We need to understand them.

LIASSON: Leader's group is planning to go back in the field later this month to survey women in the battleground states, where voters who share the demographics of the guardian women are an even larger percentage of the electorate.

Mara Liasson, NPR News.

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