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What is the 'mom vote'? Mothers across the US weigh in

"My kids are American. I want them to feel proud to be American."
Katty Huertas / TODAY
/ Source: TODAY

As President Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden court the "mom vote," mothers around the country are saying they feel left out by both candidates.

"When I think of the mom vote, I literally think of 'not me,'" said Aila Malik, 40, a mom of three in California. "I don't feel like that description is talking to me. I don't feel included in that. It's not that I don't want to be included — I think being a mom is a really beautiful thing — but I don't understand what that vote is. ... I don’t know if I’m who they mean."

Politicians and pollsters love to talk about the mom vote, but the idea that all mothers vote the same way is just a myth, says Jill Greenlee, Ph.D., an associate professor of politics at Brandeis University. Greenlee literally wrote the book on motherhood and politics: She's the author of "The Political Consequences of Motherhood," which studies how candidates have used motherhood to rally women with children.

"Candidates have talked about 'security moms' and 'soccer moms' and 'Walmart moms' for years," Greenlee told TODAY Parents. "I don’t think we can say that mothers are going to act in a unified way. That would not be correct."

Despite some campaign rhetoric, moms aren't a cohesive voting bloc.
Despite some campaign rhetoric, moms aren't a cohesive voting bloc. Katty Huertas / TODAY

Who are 'suburban moms'?

Mothers around the country agreed with Greenlee's assessment: They don't feel reflected in the candidates' commentary about mothers and parents.

Greenlee said that in many cases, the references to suburban mothers that have become common during the 2020 presidential race tend to imply a specific race, class and lifestyle: White women who are at least middle-class and hold college degrees. However, suburbs have become increasingly diverse over the past few decades.

75% of moms say they're worried about the healthcare system.

'I'm always yelling at the television'

Jenny Triplett, 52, a mother of two in suburban Georgia, said that she's very politically involved, but she believes that neither candidate talks about the topics that are important to her. Her biggest issues, she said, are the economy, tax cuts, structural racism and inequality. Even though she's watched the primary debates, both conventions and the presidential debates, she said she doesn't feel like she has solid answers about those topics from either candidate.

"Some things are not being followed up on or being asked about," she said. "I'm always yelling at the television, like, 'Why didn't they say that?' or 'Why didn't they ask that?' or 'Why didn't they talk about that?'"

Rachel Ingrisano, a mother who lives in New York City, said she feels left out when the rhetoric specifically references suburban mothers.

"If people are living in the city, as opposed to the suburbs, I feel like the things that they’re concerned about aren't being talked about because a lot of the issues that we have in the cities don’t exist in the suburbs," she said.

Ingrisano said she hears about the issues most important to her — like education — in local elections. When it comes to the presidential election, she says she only hears vague things about the issues important to her, like the Supreme Court.

"The only way they’re talking about the Supreme Court is about ... the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett," she said.

What mom voters care about

Data collected by Peanut, a social networking app for women, surveyed 1,000 mothers on their opinions about the upcoming election.

Of the moms surveyed, 72% said they were worried about the education system, 59% said they were worried about immigration, 55% were worried about gender equality, and 52% cited climate change as an important issue.

One topic that resonates strongly with mothers, according to the survey, is healthcare: 75% of moms said they were worried about the healthcare system, while 52% said they were specifically worried about the coronavirus.

Illustration of a mom pushing a baby in a stroller toward a voting poll booth
Katty Huertas / TODAY

Greenlee said the coronavirus pandemic could provide a common cause for mothers around the country to rally around as the country grapples with unemployment and remote learning. In August and September, more than 860,000 women left the workforce, four times the amount of men who left during the same period.

"I think that there are ways in which motherhood is particularly salient in this election cycle because we're dealing with a global pandemic that has left a lot of people in the lurch and struggling to maintain their lives as they once knew them," Greenlee said. "That can include ... child care and feeling concerned about their children's education."

Some moms said they find politicians' talk about the coronavirus pandemic to be exhausting and lacking results.

"Yes, the pandemic should be the main topic, but sometimes I feel like it's the only topic," Ingrisano noted.

'It just sounds like a talking point.'

Triplett has heard President Trump talk about the suburbs. It's not connecting with her.

"When he says the government needs to protect (suburban moms), how? With what? For what?" Triplett asked. "It just sounds like a talking point."

Triplett said she's bothered by the racism she sees from her neighbors.

"Am I worried about the things (politicians) are talking about? No," she said. "Karens have become emboldened in suburban neighborhoods. Calling the police on Black people is an oppressive action that Trump has done nothing about. He hasn't even spoke out against it."

'My kids are watching very closely'

Several mothers said they hope to see less divisiveness in politics.

"I’m hoping to see the country get back to a place where people aren’t so angry and divided," said Jodi Kalson, 38, a mom in Georgia. "I’m hoping to see people get out there and vote for leaders our kids can look up to. It’s so important for our kids to have role models with good morals, ethics and values. It’s not about being a Democrat or Republican this year, it’s about people using their voice to make the country better than what it is today."

Malik said that for her, the most important thing is voting for candidates that her kids can look up to.

"(My kids) are watching very closely. They are implicitly taking note of how our country is talking about and debating social issues. For my youngest, this is the first election he'll remember. It matters what they see, what they're hearing," she said. "My kids are brown. I want them to feel accepted. My kids are American. I want them to feel proud to be American and feel embraced as diverse Americans."

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