Once again, it appears that more white women voted for Donald Trump than for his Democratic opponent. Exit polls, though notoriously flawed, show that 55 percent of white women voted for Trump in 2020, compared with 52 percent in similar surveys four years ago. Whatever the final data show, we must reckon with the uncomfortable reality that white women again supported Trump. 

But a more nuanced view of the numbers shows a stark difference between college-educated and non-college educated white women. While white women without degrees continued to strongly support Trump in 2020, college-educated white women, who make up a large portion of women voters in suburban areas, were key to the Biden/Harris victory, along with Black and brown people and young people of all races. 

Dismissing suburban “wine moms” may be cool on Twitter, but according to Ohio exit polls, college-educated white women swung to Biden/Harris by 37 points, a bigger swing among that demographic than in any other battleground state and one that contributed to narrowing Trump’s win by ten points among white women in Ohio overall. 

This shift among college-educated white women didn’t happen because of expensive polling, massive TV ad buys, or armies of out-of-town organizers. Neither the Biden campaign nor national Democratic groups invested heavily in Ohio. It happened because suburban women — not all of whom are white — stepped up and got to work.  


How it started

My journey began just after the 2018 elections. While much of the rest of the country saw a blue wave, Democrats in Ohio lost every statewide race that year (save two nonpartisan State Supreme Court seats). I’d worked in national politics my whole career but felt pulled to make a difference closer to home, where we were raising our then-preschooler and infant. 

Admittedly, I was a little bleary-eyed from middle-of-the-night nursing sessions, but the mama bear instinct also gave me adrenaline to devour all the election data I could get my hands on. Two things stood out immediately: while Black turnout in Ohio was the highest in the Midwest in 2018, college-educated voters in largely white, more affluent suburbs underperformed for Democrats.  

It was so clear. Once again, people of color, Black women in particular, were carrying a disproportionate amount of the burden to advance the candidates and issues that align with my values. 

As a white suburban mom, I felt a responsibility to act. I started by making calls to women who had run for office in 2018 and either won or come close to winning in traditionally Republican suburban areas. They introduced me to suburban women in their communities who had formed secret Facebook groups following the 2016 election and were now meeting in living rooms over wine to figure out how to take action on local issues and in support of candidates. 

They hungered to make a bigger impact. I thought if I could empower these women, especially those who live in traditionally Republican areas, to use their voices to engage other women, we’d build the networks to win.

When I tested this theory with Black women leaders like Erika Anthony, founder of Cleveland VOTES (whom I later asked to become my board president), she said: “Go get your people.” Contrary to the media narrative, “suburban” is not synonymous with white, and reflecting the increasing diversity of our communities would become a core value of Red, Wine, & Blue — the organization I founded in 2019. But it was on me, and women who look like me, to start pulling our weight.


How we did it

When I started talking to suburban women who became political after 2016, I kept hearing the same thing: Trump had driven them to find each other but they had stayed for the friendships. This was the secret sauce we had to replicate. We needed to create trust, build the sisterhood, and bring the fun.

Instead of turning to political operatives, I hired suburban mom organizers who had lived in their communities for an average of 15 years. Our organizing director, Julie Womack, is the perfect example: an attorney turned stay-at-home mom who had served as the president of each of her kids' PTAs. Though she’d never gotten involved in politics, she knows women in every suburb and has more acute political judgment than most consultants. 

Beverly Batte, an autism parent who left her corporate job to help get women elected, led our digital team. One of the funniest and hardest-working people I’ve ever known, Beverly and I bonded over our desire for a political organization that throws out the talking points and meets women where they are. 

To road test tactics for 2020, we launched a pilot program ahead of the 2019 municipal elections in two fast-growing, traditionally Republican, white-collar suburban areas outside of Columbus and Cincinnati. Our inaugural videos, which we turned into digital ads, were interviews with candidates running for city council, township trustee, and school board. Instead of the usual formal setting and format, we shot our interviews in grocery stores and carpool pick-up lines and asked questions like: “What do you do to embarrass your kids?” Women were eager to share RWB content on Facebook and Instagram because they could see themselves in it — and because it was unlike anything else out there. 

Our suburban mom organizers also recruited women from their networks to share our content via text with their personal contacts. Studies show that outreach from a friend is 22 times more effective than from a stranger, and we were eager to explore the power of those PTA networks. 

When we matched our volunteers’ contacts back to the voter file, we found that 65 percent of the voters they contacted were swing voters and fifty percent were not regular voters. Later, when we were able to compare who actually voted in 2019 compared to the 2017 municipal elections, we found that turnout increased by 12 percent among the voters our volunteers contacted. Most importantly, the candidates we supported, who were mostly running for the first time, either won or gained ground in exactly the types of areas where we needed to increase support statewide.

The pilot program proved the potential of our model and revealed the challenge to scaling it. There is power in local PTA mom networks, but tapping into it in key suburbs statewide would require building a sense of community among suburban women that did not yet exist.

As we ramped up to a team of ten women and mapped out our plan for the presidential election, as well as eleven state legislative districts (eight state House and three state Senate), three congressional races, and a state Supreme Court seat, we made an important decision to meld our organizing and content strategies. 

Often in political organizations and campaigns, the organizing and media teams barely talk to each other. At RWB, our organizers recruit and train volunteers, identify powerful stories from the women in our network, coach volunteers on how to record the best selfie videos, and star in videos themselves. Our digital media team, in turn, creates authentic content that draws more women to us. We hear it all the time: “My friend shared one of your videos. I had to check you guys out.” 

We focus on friend-to-friend outreach because of its efficacy and potential for impact beyond any single election cycle. But this kind of outreach is also the most difficult to scale. Social media helps us tap a wider audience by engaging women where they’re already meeting up with each other. Digital ads allow us to further scale our reach. But reach doesn’t translate to meaningful engagement unless there’s organizing muscle — and community — behind it. 

So early on, in addition to prioritizing one-on-one conversations with women in our network (each organizer took responsibility for women closest to where they lived), our organizers encouraged the women they met to join — and invite their friends to join — our private Facebook group, “Decanted Ohio.” Here, we started conversations, asked for input on content, and constantly checked in, not just about politics but about what was going on in all of our lives.

This became even more important once the pandemic hit. When schools shut down due to COVID, we went live on Facebook with a child psychologist (full disclosure: my mother-in-law) to answer questions about what to say to our kids when they arrived home that afternoon. Since COVID made filming in person impossible, we coached moms running for state legislature to send us footage of them campaigning in quarantine with kids (that is, juggling virtual school, laundry, and call time). The videos attracted tens of thousands of views. We also launched a series of post-bedtime virtual interviews so that viewers could get to know candidates better as human beings who were struggling too.

When George Floyd was murdered, we created space for conversations among Black suburban moms, white women raising biracial kids in the suburbs, and formerly conservative suburban women whose views on race had shifted. When some of the women in our network struggled to answer concerns over the protests, we created “Peggy Woke,” a 1950s housewife who charmingly but firmly explained how to articulate that Black lives must remain the primary concern. After a Minnesota state legislator claimed that moms in the suburbs were “scared to death” over the protests, we crowdsourced a video of suburban women attending protests, making clear that we are not damsels in need of rescue. 

By early summer, when we launched our “Vino the Vote” Zoom parties to recruit and train hundreds of volunteers on our relational organizing program (we would eventually host ninety of them), we’d set the tone. This was a community built on two-way communication with a desire to own our power, be ourselves, and get shit done. 


Seizing the moment

And then President Trump started tweeting about “suburban housewives” with fear mongering and racist dog whistles. We responded with the #HousewifeChallenge, in which women posted tongue-in-cheek selfie photos, dressed up as 1950s housewives donning their Biden/Harris signs. It went viral, as did the news coverage. 

Around the same time, Trump’s tweets pissed off stay-at-home mom Loni Yeary-Gentry, who started a Facebook group she intended only for her friends called “‘Suburban Housewives’ Against Trump.” Within a week, the group grew to 10,000 members. Soon enough, RWB took it on, committing staff and volunteers to review and approve posts (thousands are submitted daily), moderate comments, and generate content to engage members and set a positive tone. The group became a safe space for women from diverse political backgrounds to find the confidence to talk to friends and family about the election and get involved in our organizing efforts. Within three months, it grew to over 230,000 members.

Our Facebook Live interviews expanded beyond candidates to include Sen. Tammy Duckworth on her IVF journey, Chasten Buttigieg on how to manage campaign stress, Heather Cox Richardson on cutting through the BS, and, just as the NRA promised, a (virtual) visit from Beto O’Rourke to the suburbs. Women from our network asked questions on screen and joined our post-interview show to reflect on the conversations and encourage other women to get involved. No matter the moment, we made sure our members saw themselves in our content and in our community — both literally and figuratively. 

By the peak of the 2020 campaign, women in our network starred in humorous and heartfelt videos that reached hundreds of thousands of people. They were featured in local, national, and international media coverage (including the New York Times, The Daily, MSNBC, BBC, The Atlantic, and the Associated Press), reaching millions more. They saw that their voices mattered and that they could make a difference.


The results

Biden gained up to nine points in every suburban county we targeted. According to an America Votes precinct analysis, he picked up 6.7 points in white-collar suburbs statewide. Democrats won or gained ground in all eleven of our state legislative races, including the only Democratic state house pick-up in the state. Former Democratic Secretary of State and voting rights champion Jennifer Brunner also won her state Supreme Court seat. 

We recruited 661 volunteers who made 5,245 friend-to-friend contacts, which has the equivalent impact of over 2.7 million cold text attempts or 220,710 cold door-knock or phone call attempts from strangers. 

Our content reached more than 1.7 million unique Facebook users (almost all suburban women in our target geographies). Most importantly, we maintained a thirty percent engagement rate on Facebook (measured through likes, comments, and shares). For context, a Facebook engagement rate over one percent is considered good across industries. 

In a membership survey we circulated right before the election, 77 percent of the 350 volunteers who responded told us they felt more empowered as a result of working with RWB;  ninety percent said they will continue to engage with us. The first question we got after the election was: “What’s next?” 

As we look to January 20th and beyond, our success at Red, Wine, & Blue demonstrates that those PTA moms have the energy, courage, and commitment to advance progressive candidates and values. We can handle getting mocked on Twitter, but don’t turn down the invite to our next virtual happy hour. Restoring democracy is on the agenda.


Click here to read the entire Elections 2020: Strategy Debrief issue.


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