How Trump's Version of the Suburbs Gets it Wrong

Analysis of Trump's favorability ratings with suburban voters and the demographic trends of recent years could doom his recent messages regarding the Democratic agenda for the suburbs.

August 4, 2020, 5:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell

Trump Sign

President Trump has lost support in the suburbs since 2016, according to poll data shared recently by the New York Times. | David Mulder / Flickr

Since President Trump recently attacked and eventually scrapped the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule in a move that has been derided as a racist and divisive political stunt that seems unaware of the administration's previous actions, some media commentators have also noted the political shortcomings of Trump's new ploy for the suburbs: the suburbs aren't what they used to be, but not in the way that Trump means it. 

Analysis by Emily Badger and Nate Cohn provides data driven analysis of the shifting demographics of the suburbs, finding support for many of the social causes sparking Trump's ire of late. The analysis relies on recent innovations in distinguishing between suburban and urban, based on survey data generated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which in turn expanded on previous survey research by Trulia.

As noted by Badger and Cohn, Trump has been "[playing] on the perceived fears of suburban voters. But there are several reasons to believe that a strategy that worked for Richard Nixon on the heels of urban unrest in 1968 is less likely to be effective for Donald Trump in 2020."

According to data shared by Badger, broken down on the geographic definitions generated by HUD's recent survey, "while polling shows that suburban voters disapprove of the president’s job in general, they disapprove even more of his handling of the very issues he is trying to elevate."

Additional commentators have cited this New York Times analysis to echo the idea that suburban voters aren't following the same political patterns as they did at the end of the 20th century: Eric Levitz for New York magazine and Ronald Brownstein for CNN

In another article that predates Badger and Cohn's analysis, Jamelle Bouie argues that Trump's political error originates from a slightly different, but relate kind of demographic misunderstanding: that the silent majority, as it existed for Nixon in 1969. Like the suburbs, the silent majority has changed. They are both more diverse, and less likely to support Trump than ever.

Thursday, July 30, 2020 in The New York Times

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