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It’s hard to imagine that there are American voters still split between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, considering their respective tenures in the White House and the polarization of the US electorate.
But “undecideds” – the small minority of people who aren’t sure which candidate they’ll support – are shaping up to be the battleground demographic this year.
There are likely more than 10 million Americans with a propensity to vote who are truly undecided about the top of the ticket this year, said Paul Westcott, SVP of the voter data seller L2 Political.
Specifically, both candidates are fighting for the votes of white, suburban women.
There’s nothing new about that – the term “soccer mom” comes from Bill Clinton’s 1996 presidential campaign, targeting mostly college-educated, working women in their 30s and 40s. What’s different this year is that more of those votes may actually be in play.
Elusive suburban women
Non-political data connects undecided voting with a change to suburban life, according to the data company Eyeota. A large set of self-declared undecided voters matched to Eyeota’s commercial database showed that those who recently bought a home, recently married or are new parents overlap more than any other consumer factor.
“We can infer that some or most of these consumers within both undecided voters and their life event categories are reevaluating their political interests based on changing lifestyles,” said Eyeota Director of Audience Insights Alex Fu.
In 2016, models that confidently forecast a victory for Hillary Clinton were thrown off by the fact that Trump beat Clinton among white women voters by a margin of 47% to 45%, respectively (the other 8% cast votes for third-party candidates or no presidential candidate), according to Pew Research.
This year, L2’s most popular political segment is a ticket-splitter model, which aggregates eligible voters from either party who say they’re willing to vote for different party candidates up and down the ballot, Westcott said.
While it’s obvious that 2020 presidential candidates are trying to win voters in the middle, it wasn’t a foregone conclusion that they would focus so intently on white suburban women.
The primary between Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., was a kind of proxy contest for whether Democrats would try to win white women who are potential swing voters or bet on younger, more diverse voters on the party’s liberal flank.
“Nancy Pelosi is speaker today not because Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York inspired fervor on social media, but because Lucy McBath of Georgia, Abigail Spanberger of Virginia and Lauren Underwood of Illinois, among many others, flipped mostly suburban red districts in 2018,” according to Rahm Emanuel, former Chicago mayor and Democratic congressman.
Trying to win suburban white women isn’t new for Democrats, in terms of chasing voters with a conservative streak who nonetheless might leave the GOP, said Andrew Drechsler, president of the liberal political data and analytics company HaystaqDNA, the data vendor for Bernie Sanders’ primary campaign.
“I haven’t dug into the general election data we’re gathering right now to say that’s the segment Democrats and the Biden campaign should focus on,” he said. “But anecdotally, that’s the segment they are focused on.”
Since Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama both tried and failed to beat Republicans among white women, should the Biden campaign return to the same well?
Before Sanders dropped out, Biden won less than a fifth of voters under 30 years old in every primary, according to CNN exit polls, which would represent a larger target.
Biden’s pursuit of middle-aged white women sacrifices momentum with younger liberals. Biden hasn’t embraced marijuana legalization, for instance, despite its popularity with younger voters.
Meanwhile, President Trump allegedly focused recent speeches about social unrest on Black Lives Matter protests and the progressive “cancel culture” movement because those issues resonate with white, suburban women.
Expect to see more creative messaging from the candidates as they try to find an approach that resonates with this small slice of the electorate, which will continue to receive outsize attention in the coming months.
“Groups who aren't talking to undecideds will deeply regret it on Election Day,” said Michael Marinaccio, COO of the Data Trust, the main conservative data seller and warehouse.
“It is not your father’s swing voter anymore.”
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Brands are increasingly taking political stances nowadays on racial justice, the environment and other issues important to their target audiences.
But one candy brand is borrowing a page from of a very different political playbook.
“Make America Grape Again” is the new slogan for Alexander the Grape, a grape-flavored candy that’s banking on irreverent humor to win over a new generation of fans.
In the 1970s, the Ferrara Candy Company introduced Alexander the Grape. The candy was eventually discontinued, and Ferrara was consolidated with other candy brands, including Wonka candies and the gummy brand Farley’s & Sathers, which makes Now & Later and Jujyfruits.
Lou Pagano, whose family cofounded Ferrara Candy in 1908, reintroduced the Alexander the Grape brand after leaving the company in 2018 and launching 1908 Candy.
“It’s been interesting to see the reaction,” Pagano said.
The best-case scenario, he said, is that conservatives interpret the marketing as supportive, while liberals embrace it as satire.
The brand has picked up organic marketing boosts from some irreverent voices.
A member of the Second City improv group incorporated it into a skit after coming across a T-shirt. And Dave Portnoy, founder of the bawdy sports and online culture site Barstool Sports, generated a huge spike in traffic from an online unboxing video of candy and merch.
Alexander the Grape and 1908 Candy have more engagement on Twitter, Reddit and TikTok than on Instagram, which tracks more with its political in-jokes.
Pagano said the campaign does receive some pushback from people who consider it too flippant, and he no longer uses the MAGA acronym, which is too politicized at this point for the joke to work.
“When you’re dealing with marketing, you want some buzz like that,” he said. “You want people who are turned off but are going to talk about it.”