Politics

Women Will Determine This Election

Donald Trump’s characterization of the suburban housewife misses what’s happened for female voters over the past four years.

A white woman in glasses and a face mask holds up a sign that says, "Florida women for Biden Harris."
A supporter at a Women for Biden drive-in rally in Boca Raton, Florida, on Monday. Johnny Louis/Getty Images

Every Monday at 1 p.m., Slate is hosting In the Know, an election talk show, on YouTube and Facebook Live. This week, Slow Burn host Noreen Malone talked to Cecile Richards, the former president of Planned Parenthood and co-founder of Super Majority. The two discussed women’s political issues and how women have become a more dominant voting bloc. You can read an excerpt of their conversation, which has been edited and condensed for clarity, below.

Noreen Malone: Let’s talk about Super Majority. Can you explain what Super Majority does and the history of its founding?

Cecile Richards: Sure. After the 2016 election, there were a lot of women who, as we know, marched—in fact at that point, they were the largest marches in recorded history—women who were deeply concerned about the direction of the country. And it could have been that that just was a march and then they went on about their business. But the truth is women just never quit organizing. And I was struck by how many women would stop me and say, “OK, I marched, I went to my town hall meeting, now what more do I do? What’s the next thing?” I joined with some other friends of mine, women who’ve been organizing women for a long, long time, to create Super Majority as really a home for women to be trained in organizing, to meet other women that worked across different issues, and to really build a national multiracial, multigenerational force of women. So we launched a little more than a year ago. And it’s really important because women will be the majority of voters in this election season and will have the opportunity to influence not only what happens in the White House but in Congress as well.

What is different about getting women involved or organized than just people generally? How is that a different project? Are there different ways to appeal to us?

Well, women do have their own point of view about issues we should be addressing in this country. And look, I think women have been the majority of voters since the 1960s. Women were the phone bankers and the door knockers, and they were licking the stamps and sealing the envelopes. I would say they were the ground troops for elections, but seldom do the issues that we care about really after the election come to the front of the line. And so the idea of Super Majority is we not only want to be able to affect elections, we also want to be able to affect the agenda.

And honestly, there was no better proof point than the need for an organization like Super Majority, or the need for women’s point of view to be represented, than what we’ve seen in COVID. Obviously, this pandemic has affected women, not only as front-line providers, whether health care workers or caregivers, but our economic situation. This is being called a women’s recession. So many women are dropping out of the job market now because they have to take care of their kids who don’t have school or child care. There’s never really been a more important time for women’s issues to be heard and addressed. And we might talk about it, but I think it’s also why you’re seeing an historic gender gap in this presidential election.

Yeah, I actually wrote down the labor report numbers from last month because they were so stunning. 865,000 women dropped out of the labor force compared with 216,000 men.

That’s right.

How is this going to reshape women’s economic and social futures? How are we going to see change and what can be done about it in this election?

I think we need a Women’s Recovery Act. These are systemic problems. And I think this is actually, and it’s one of the things that we talk about a lot at Super Majority, and I’m sure you have friends and people listening, women—they think they have to figure this all out on their own. Like whether to send their kid back to school, how to have their kids taken care of safely. Can they work from home? So many women I know, they are “working from home,” but that’s at 10 p.m. at night to 2 a.m. when their kids are finally asleep and they’ve finished whatever else that they’ve got to do.

I’ll give you a good example. I think we spent $40 billion or $50 billion bailing out the airline industry. Well, if we could have taken that and bailed out the child care industry, there actually might be the possibility of women going back to work, right now. But this administration has completely failed in this pandemic. And now of course, we’re seeing, as you said, the labor statistics are horrific. One in four women talking about not returning to their job because they simply can’t take care of their kids. They don’t have any plan and any way of managing this situation. It’s just time that that isn’t every woman’s problem on her own. We need a systemic approach. And part of that is recognizing that women are half the workforce in this country, and if we’re ever going to rebuild our economy, get out of this mess, we’re going to have to take care of the needs of women as well.

I do find it depressing that in so many couples, the default is that the woman is the one who ends up making that choice. But I think you’re absolutely right that it has to happen on a systemic level. You must have data on what women actually want to happen in this election. What beyond the obvious do women as a group want, and then for sort of newly involved women, what is at the top of their list?

Well, No. 1 is dealing with COVID. When COVID hit, women had to make a plan to take care of their families, to figure out what to do about their job, etc. And they want the government to have a plan. They want a president who has a plan. So I would say that is No. 1. And of course, it’s totally related to being able to get health care. The No. 1 issue in this election is health care access. And of course, part of the concern about this Supreme Court, the rush to put a justice on the Supreme Court that would help overturn the Affordable Care Act, is because women are very aware of what would happen if they lose their health insurance. And that, of course, 28 million-some odd people would be at risk of losing just that. So that’s No. 1.

The second is there is an overwhelming need and energy behind dealing with racial injustice in this country. And this crosses race, it crosses background, it crosses geography. Women are deeply disturbed with how this has been completely mishandled by this administration, really not even acknowledged. And I would say that is way at the top. And then the other issue is the economy and how women are going to be able to be paid fairly. And of course, for so many women, it’s directly related to the health care aspects of COVID, women who are not able to now count on full employment, or can’t even figure out how to get back into the job market. And I would say those were issues, they’re not partisan issues, these are just basic day-to-day living issues. And I think they feel like this administration has left them behind, has never taken their issues seriously. Really, since last spring, Joe Biden has been about 30 points ahead of Donald Trump with women, and all women, suburban women, urban women, young women in particular. This is an election that is going to be decided by women. And right now, that’s not good for the president.

What do you make of Donald Trump’s efforts to appeal to this imaginary suburban woman that he keeps talking about? Do you think he’s doing it in a different way?

I don’t know what’s in his head, but he obviously isn’t going to the suburbs, he doesn’t know who lives in the suburbs. Again, I think at least the last poll I saw, suburban women are opposing Donald Trump by nearly 30 points. They don’t like the partisanship. They don’t like the lying. They don’t like the fact that he’s not taking our health care seriously. They’re desperately concerned about their children and the elderly in their homes. They want an economic plan and they want a health care plan. Suburban women are not buying whatever it is he thinks he’s selling, which to me has been really a message of white supremacy. He is speaking to a very, very small base of people in this country, and that is not the suburbs and it’s certainly not women. You saw—I guess we still call it a debate, whatever that sort of screaming fest that the president had last week—I’ll tell you who really, really was turned off by that, and that was women.

One of the things that I think is different between this year and 2016 is the sort of sophistication of the electorate around certain issues. You said appealing to suburban women in that way is white supremacy. You hear people talk about anti-racism in ways that they didn’t in 2016. I just think that there’s a real evolution of the sort of stereotypical resistance mom, for lack of a better phrase, that I’m interested to clock and watch evolve. What differences do you see, whether in degree or kind, from 2016 with the women who are involved now? Does it vary by region of the country? Does it vary by economic class?

So many things have changed. One is I think there’s obviously a lot of women who woke up the morning after the election—and sometimes Secretary Clinton says this, they’ll come up to her and said, “Oh, I wish I’d voted.” So I think there are a lot of women who realize, “Oh, this is no fooling around. Actually this election really, really matters.” And that women did see out of those marches, they saw the power of women standing together, and demonstrating that in 2018. We saw record numbers of women run for office and get elected, women of color going to Congress in record numbers, [winning] down-ballot races. So I do believe women are beginning to understand the political power they have to change the direction of the country. And I’ll also say 2016 was a real reckoning for white women, saying, “Honestly, we can’t rely on women of color, Black women in particular, who have always been the most progressive, most reliable voters.” And that it was really important that white women be held to account.

I think this is going to be a much different year. And I do think it’s important that that women get credit where credit’s due, again, not only as being sort of the activists and all the people who make the phone calls and do all that, but also the voters. Because I think now in a funny way, a friend of mine said this the other day, from the 19th, Errin Haines—it’s like in a way, the definition of “electable” now is: Will women vote for you?

Watch the whole conversation here: