There’s a Trump supporter you rarely see at rallies, but whose existence has been affirmed, again and again, through polling. Call her the Ivanka Voter. She lives in the suburbs. She has great highlights, most certainly not out of the box. She might be middle-aged, with kids in high school or college, or a stay-at-home mom; she might be an up-and-coming professional, not yet married. She lives in the well-to-do suburbs — places like Rochester, Michigan; Indian Hill, Ohio; Eden Prairie, Minnesota; and Haverford, Pennsylvania. She had to drive to get to the rally, because not enough people would come if he held one where she actually lived. She wears expensive jeans tucked into her cute boots. She doesn’t wear a Trump shirt — but she might wear a button on her fashionable sweater. She shops at Nordstrom, and Macy’s, and Marshall’s.
This voter is almost entirely absent from the images that proliferate around Trump and his events, which are overwhelmed with obvious signifiers of class: the men and women depicted might be overweight, have bad haircuts, or wear crass T-shirts. They might have bad teeth. They might be worked up, red-faced, quoted spouting a racial epithet. They're the heavily mythologized "white working class": men and women who've been left behind by globalization, ignored by both parties, and magnetized by Trump.
And while there are many “angry white men” at Trump rallies and amongst Trump voters, the median income of the Trump voter during the primaries was $72,000 — $16,000 more than the national average. Yet the images endure. Many college-educated liberals cling to them as proof of just how different, how Other, the Trump voter is: He lives somewhere else, he acts like someone else, he believes something else.
The Ivanka Voter is not the stereotypical Trump voter. She doesn’t have a Trump sign in her yard, either because it would get egged or she doesn’t want to fight with the neighbors. She knows all about Ivanka’s clothing line and brand, and thinks she would be great in the White House, because she’s classy and sophisticated, polished and well-spoken, all the things her father is not. She’s very clear that there are things that Trump says that she doesn’t agree with. She does not think of herself as racist. She describes herself as “socially moderate.”
But she’s voting for him.
This is a broad portrait, but it reflects conversations I’ve had with a dozen women at Trump rallies in Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin, talking about themselves and their friends and neighbors who aren’t there. It’s harder for many liberals to reconcile the Ivanka Voter with their understanding of the election, in part because she is so very familiar: She may be your mother, or your friend, or your grandmother. She’s the person I’ve heard discussed in terms like “I think my aunt might be a Trump supporter, but I don’t want to bring it up.”
That’s because the Ivanka Voter has internalized the fact that voting for Trump is not something you do in public: either because she thinks talking about politics is tacky (still a prominent belief, even today), or because she simply doesn’t want to deal with others lecturing her about her vote. As Jennifer, a fiftysomething woman from Rochester, Michigan, told me, “It’s almost as if it’s a moral judgment.”
At the rallies, these women stick out not because they’re dressed differently, although they are, but because of their tentativeness. They’re not waving “WOMEN FOR TRUMP” signs. They stand near the back — it’s the first rally they've ever attended, because they've never thought of herself as political. They came as a pair, with a cluster of girlfriends, not with their husbands — they're at work. They don’t join in the chants. When a television journalist walked by in Warren, Michigan, and asked two of these women to be on camera, they graciously declined. None of the women I spoke to wanted their full names used or any photographs of them. They were happy to talk about why they were voting for Trump, but they were also ready to be defensive: “Listen, I’m not saying I agree with everything he’s said,” Michelle, another woman from Rochester, one of the wealthiest suburbs of Detroit, told me.
At the beginning of the election cycle, Michelle was even supporting Hillary — she didn’t like anyone on the Republican side. Back in the ‘90s, she voted for Bill. She supports marriage equality. “I’m okay with abortion,” she said. “I’m just not okay with late-term abortion.” She likes that Trump isn’t super religious, or a super social conservative like Ted Cruz, because she’s not a particularly religious person herself. And over the last few months, it’s become clear that she needs to vote for Trump — because Hillary’s corrupt, and belongs in jail, and will be business as usual in Washington.
Sarah was there with her friend Vicky, who’d been for Trump all along. She was thrilled that her daughter, who’s away at college in Cincinnati, had just sent in her absentee vote for Trump. She owns a pair of Ivanka booties, and thinks Ivanka would be wonderful at any position in the cabinet, especially any of the ones that would take advantage of her phenomenal people skills.
Vicky says she’s talked to tons of businesspeople who are going to vote for Trump but don’t want to say anything about it. “There are people in the South of our county that are more elitist, more liberal,” she explained, which is why Obama won the area in 2008 and 2012, and also why people don’t want to say they’re voting for Trump. “People just attack you on Facebook, call you a racist, call you sexist, call you dumb, tell you to up your meds. I don’t even know these people, they’re on a friend’s Facebook page, and they’re saying it to me!”
These days, Vicky still posts the occasional #MAGA or #Trump16 hashtag, but Sarah steers clear of posting anything about politics. They'd driven 40 minutes to Warren — a place they rarely, if ever, go. “This is where a lot of auto industry is,” Sarah said. “Where the idea of the ‘Reagan Democrat’ came from, all the union workers who went Republican in the ‘80s. That’s why Trump wanted to come here.”
They’re increasingly convinced Trump could win Michigan, in part because they’ve come to agree that the polls, and the elections, are rigged. “Have you heard about that county in New Jersey where 100% of people voted for Obama last election?” Vicky asked. “Now that’s just impossible!” (She was possibly referring to a claim, circulated in meme form and by Sean Hannity, that in 59 voting districts in the Philadelphia region, Obama received 100% of the votes. PolitiFact has shown that 59 divisions, which number no more than 660 people, voted exclusively for Obama — divisions located in the predominantly African-American sections of the city. Read more context here.)
As for accusations of Trump’s sexual misconduct, the women I spoke to were unconcerned. “Did you hear what Madonna said at Madison Square Garden?” Sarah said. “She said she’d suck anyone’s dick if they voted for Hillary, that she doesn’t spit, she swallows. And Miley Cyrus bent over and said to ‘lick this?’ Now that’s gross.” Another pair of Rochester voters had a similar logic, especially when it came to the Access Hollywood tapes. “I’ve heard Hillary herself has quite the filthy mouth” — quite the contrast to Ivanka, whom they described as “classy,” “regal,” and “poised,” and whose heels one of them tried on the other day.
They, too, felt that many people in their neighborhoods were Trump supporters — they just weren’t putting out signs or talking about their politics on Facebook. “This isn’t the 2000 election; I don’t want to have a beer with the guy,” Denise, a fiftysomething woman in a tasteful sweater with a fur collar, told me. “I don’t even want to be friends with him ... I don’t think we run in the same circles.” But they, too, were concerned for the future Supreme Court — although they didn’t say what, exactly, they are afraid would happen, and both described themselves as “social moderates.”
The greatest indicator of what the Ivanka Voter is, however, is what she is not. Unlike many supporters I spoke to about the allegations against Trump, Ivanka Voters do not offer stories of how their fathers, or their husbands, speak to them in a manner similar to Trump. They do not rail against political correctness, or dismiss Michelle Obama’s work attempting to put healthy eating options in schools as “not a worthy cause” and “stupid,” as one Trump voter described it to me. By contrast, Ivanka Voters likely shop at Whole Foods, and go to Pilates, and maybe even admire Michelle Obama. They dislike Hillary, but they think the shirts with “Monica Spits, Hillary Swallows” are in poor taste.
Most of these women aren’t at these rallies, because Donald Trump’s entire campaign, including the circus that’s accumulated around it and the rhetoric that’s flooded from it, is an inconvenient truth they’d rather ignore. The best way to ignore it, of course, is to stay silent — and thus ensure they don’t have to have a conversation, or articulate a defense, of what their vote implicitly endorses. That’s why Ivanka has become such a talisman: “If Trump produced someone that classy, that’s a testament to something,” one woman told me. Ivanka, then, as Trump launderer: a sanitized, assuring, classy Trump who makes it less troublesome to vote for her father.
Suburban white women have historically held tremendous electoral sway, referred to, variously, as the Soccer Mom, the Hockey Mom, the Security Mom, or part of the Silent Majority. That sway stems from their sheer number, but also their voting patterns: white, 30-plus, college-educated women — e.g., the group largely referred to, by pollsters, as “suburban women” — vote at significantly higher rates than their non-white, younger, non–college-educated, male peers. Suburban white women, in other words, vote — in no small part because they do not face the same systemic disenfranchisement as many (non-white, non-suburban) citizens.
These suburban voters have long been characterized as fiscally conservative and, to varying degrees, socially moderate-to-liberal. They have money; they like Ellen. They're concerned about their children's safety; they're heavily invested in maintaining the status quo. And they're often swing voters: They voted for Clinton in 1996, George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004, Obama in 2008, and Romney in 2012.
They're not feminists, per se, but they also don't think it's okay to grab women by their pussies, or generally denigrate women. Which is why the Clinton campaign has been targeting them specifically, especially in battleground states like Pennsylvania: Before the first debate, Hillary was up 11 points amongst them, and even without recent targeted polling information, it seems likely that she will win the demographic as a whole.
Trump is viewed negatively by 60 to 70% of suburban women — a statistic that would utterly sink most candidates. But in this election’s logic, you can dislike a candidate and still vote for them — and many women have figured out a way to get past, or at least ignore, their distaste for Trump. And as he enters the final stretch of the campaign without a recent gaffe, and the national polls begin to tighten in earnest, it becomes that much easier to enter the privacy of the polling booth, where no one’s judging them, close their eyes, and think of Ivanka.
Anne Helen Petersen is a senior culture writer for BuzzFeed News. Petersen has a Ph.D. from the University Of Texas and wrote her dissertation on the gossip industry.
Contact Anne Helen Petersen at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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