Polling Insight: 4 Takeaways About Suburban Women Voters

Suburban women have long been a coveted voting bloc for both Democratic and Republican candidates. Decades ago, this group was largely described as white suburban mothers, but the demographics of suburban women voters are changing and now the group is more akin to a microcosm of the U.S. as they shift younger, and more racially and ethnically diverse – which had led to a strong Democratic advantage in the past two presidential elections. For example, Democratic candidates gained ground among suburban voters from 2016 to 2020. But in 2022, suburban voters were divided between Democratic and Republican candidates and now analysts are wondering which candidate has the advantage in 2024 among this key voting group.

The KFF Survey of Women Voters finds that suburban women still lean Democratic and nearly half say they plan on voting for President Biden in November. Yet for many, inflation is top of mind – an issue that four in ten say neither political party does a better job of addressing. On the key issue of abortion, suburban women align most closely with the Democratic Party in terms of the policies they support.

The analysis is based on a survey of more than 3,000 women nationally including 636 suburban women nationally and 275 suburban women voters in Arizona. The entire project is available on the KFF Survey of Women Voters Dashboard, which includes more data from the survey, as well as the topline and methodology.

#1: Most Suburban Women Identify as Pro-Choice, Say Abortion Should Be Legal

Alongside these changing demographics, suburban women hold very similar views on abortion as women nationally. While about half of suburban women voters (47%) say they are Democrats or lean Democratic (more than one-third identify as Republican or Republican-leaning and one in five are independents), more than two-thirds of suburban women voters (69%) say they identify as “pro-choice” (compared to 67% of women voters, nationally) and about three-fourths say they think abortion should be legal in all or most cases (compared to 74% of women, nationally). The views of suburban women on abortion more closely align with urban women rather than women living in rural areas who are more likely to identify as pro-life (40%) and want abortion to be illegal in all or most cases (36%).

Most Republican Suburban Women Identify as Pro-life but Half Support Some Abortion Access, One in Four Think Republican Party Has Gone Too Far

Women voters living in the suburbs who are Republican or lean Republican are more supportive of broader abortion access than their rural counterparts, even though more than half of suburban Republican women (58%) identify as pro-life (which is similar to the share of rural Republican women who say the same). Half of Republican suburban women say they think abortion should be legal in all or most cases, and one in four (26%) say the Republican Party has done too much to restrict access to reproductive health services. This is twice the share of rural Republican women voters who say the same (13%). In addition, one in four Republican women in the suburbs are worried they or someone close to them will need an abortion during a medical emergency and be unable to get it (similar to share of urban Republican women who say the same, but half the share of Democrats who say the same, regardless of where they live). Most suburban women voters, regardless of partisanship, say they know someone (including themselves) who has ended a pregnancy by abortion (56% of suburban Republican women and 66% of suburban Democratic women). It is also important to note that one-fourth of Republican women voters in the suburbs say they prefer another Republican nominee for president other than former President Trump.

#2: Suburban Women Largely Favor Policies Protecting Access to Abortion

Across all partisans, women voters living in the suburbs support laws protecting access to abortions in some instances including for patients who are experiencing pregnancy-related emergencies, or in cases of rape or incest in all states where abortion is banned. Large majorities of Democratic women in the suburbs (91%) and independent women in the suburbs (80%) support a law guaranteeing a nationwide right to abortion, as do nearly half of suburban Republican women (46%). Majorities of Republican women voters in the suburbs also support leaving it up to the states to decide whether abortion is legal (62%) as well as a law establishing a 15-week abortion ban nationwide (60%).

Consistent with what the national KFF Survey of Women Voters shows in other states with abortion-related ballot measures, majorities of suburban women support ballot measures enshrining abortion access. In Arizona, a battleground state in which voters will likely be voting on an abortion-related ballot initiative, a large majority of suburban women as well majorities of urban and rural women say they plan on voting in support of this initiative. Half (49%) of suburban women voters in Arizona say that if this initiative appears on the ballot in their state, they will be more motivated to vote, while half (48%) say it will not impact their decision to vote.

#3: Suburban Women Say Inflation Is Top Voting Issue, Say Neither Party Does Better at Handling Rising Costs

Part of President Biden’s appeal to suburban women has been on the issue of abortion and the overturning of Roe v. Wade, yet inflation is the top voting issue for more than a third (36%) of suburban women voters followed by threats to democracy (25%). Abortion ranks third, alongside immigration, with both cited as the most important voting issue by 12% of suburban women voters.

Similar shares of urban, suburban, and rural women say abortion is their most important voting issue (10%, 12%, and 7%, respectively); and while inflation is the top issue across geographic areas, the issue is most important for a larger share of rural voters (46%) than suburban voters (36%). Suburban women are more likely to cite threats to democracy as the most important voting issue than their rural counterparts (25% compared to 17%).

With inflation top of mind for suburban women, it is striking that neither party has the advantage among this group on the key issue of addressing the cost of household expenses. Four in ten suburban women (41%) say neither party does a better job of addressing the cost of household expenses, even as suburban women give the Democratic Party the advantage on all other issues asked about including cost of health care and childcare.

About three-fourths of suburban women voters report worrying about affording the cost of health care for them and their family (73%), or their food or groceries (72%). In addition, nearly two-thirds say they worry about being able to afford their monthly utilities (63%), and more than half of suburban women (56%) worry a lot or some about being able to afford their rent or mortgage (similar to the share of rural women who say the same).

#4: Suburban Women Feel Frustrated About Upcoming Presidential Election, Largely Dissatisfied with Candidates

With suburban women citing many issues as important to their vote, it is notable that 12% say they don’t plan on voting in the upcoming presidential election or that they will vote for a third-party candidate. This includes similar shares of Democratic suburban women (8%) and Republican suburban women (9%) and three in ten independent suburban women. This may reflect their overall feelings toward the two frontrunner party candidates. Three-fourths of suburban women voters say they feel frustrated about the upcoming presidential election including 76% of Democratic suburban women, 74% of Republican suburban women, and 72% of independent suburban women.

In addition, six in ten are not satisfied with their choices for president, including a third who say they are “not at all satisfied.” When asked why they are not satisfied with their choices for president, suburban women offered a multitude of responses related to the candidates’ age, temperament, and their stances on key issues.

What is the main reason why you aren’t satisfied with Joe Biden as the Democratic nominee for president?

“We need a young fresh perspective on fixing America’s issues. These old white men do not represent our diverse nation.” – 52 year old Democratic multi-racial woman from suburban Nevada

“He supports Israel and is funding the terroristic side of the war.” – 18 year old Democratic Hispanic woman from suburban Georgia

“I would like him to be stronger on liberal issues” – 36 year old Democratic White woman from suburban Maryland

What is the main reason why you aren’t satisfied with Donald Trump as the Republican nominee for president?

“He lacks leadership and encourages divisiveness within our country” – 60 year old Republican White woman from suburban Florida

“The economy, the wars abroad, climate change, and women’s rights regarding abortion.” – 57 year old Republican White woman from suburban Pennsylvania

“I am concerned he will be impeached or not be able to run if he’s convicted of felonies” – 41 year old Republican White woman from suburban North Carolina

All signs point to an exceptionally tight presidential election where even slight advantages could tip the electoral balance in favor of either candidate. Suburban women are not voting as a monolith and have competing priorities driving their voting decisions this fall, including whether they decide to turn out or stay home. While various factors influence voters, the candidates’ stances on abortion and their handling of inflation could serve as crucial benchmarks for many suburban women when casting their ballots.

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