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In the aftermath of the 2018 midterm elections, one trend became incredibly clear: the outsized role that suburban women played in the electoral success of the Democratic Party. According to Larry Sabato, the Director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, this midterm election did not result in a red wave or a blue wave, but it triggered “a suburban tsunami” (Gaudiano and Collins 2018). Suburban counties that were considered Republican strongholds, like parts of Fulton County in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District and Atascosa County in Texas’ 28th Congressional District, shifted from bright red to blue. In fact, suburban women were credited with handing the Democratic Party their largest margin of victory in any midterm election since the post-Watergate contest of 1974 (Balz and Scherer 2018).
But what was it about the suburban population in 2018 that yielded this tsunami? Technically, these areas have been red for the past 40 years and have always been considered “suburban.” Why the different outcome in this particular election? Recent literature in demography suggests that suburban areas across the United States are surging in population size. This growth has caused an increase in population density within suburban areas. Since densely populated areas provide more opportunities for individuals to interact with people of different racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds, sociology literature suggests that residents in these areas are more likely to hold liberal beliefs (Wessel 2009). As such, if the populations of these suburban areas have become more diverse, one would expect to see a liberalizing effect on the residents (Teigen, Shaw, McKee 2017).
In this paper, we ask the following questions: to what extent has the increasing and diversifying population density in the suburbs affected the political behavior of suburban women? We argue that spatial location was only one facet of Democratic electoral victories in 2018 and posit that both population shifts as well as changes in demographics in these suburban spaces led to these political outcomes. Our research methodology is twofold. First, we focus on suburban areas in three southern states (Florida, Georgia, and Texas) and three states on the east coast (Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey). We use GIS mapping, United States Census data, and population data collected by each state to uncover how the populations in suburban areas have shifted from 2000 to 2018. Second, we examine congressional, gubernatorial, and presidential election outcomes in these same areas from 2000 to 2018. Researching this segment of the population through these different lenses will provide a more nuanced understanding of the politics of suburban women The findings in this research paper will be useful to politicians, pundits, campaign operatives, and numerous academics that study elections, race, and political behavior.