Des Moines’ suburbs are changing. So are the women voting in them.

By: - November 2, 2020 2:23 pm

Shundrea Trotty of Des Moines lives in Altoona and voted for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris in the upcoming November election. (Photo submitted by Shundrea Trotty)

When 17 high school students died in a mass school shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School, Bailey Caskey, then a student at the University of Northern Iowa, lay on her dormitory floor.

Then, she “lost it,” Caskey said.

The news of another school shooting weighed heavily on the young adult. 

But she said she felt President Donald Trump’s lack of response and action after the deaths also hit heavily.

“That was a pivotal moment when I realized the lack of empathy from this president,” Caskey said. “Where did we get to this point of shrug your shoulders — too bad?”

That was in 2018.

Bailey Caskey meets with Kamala Harris at the University of Northern Iowa. (Photo submitted by Bailey Caskey)

Now, in 2020, Caskey graduated from UNI in May and moved back home to Ankeny where she’s been phone banking and volunteering for Democrats.

Caskey, who grew up in Ankeny, said she sees a shift in sentiment in the typically conservative suburb.

From the Black Lives Matter movement to health concerns over COVID-19, she said women in her area are becoming more outspoken about current events and are influencing their families as well.

“Young people and young women especially are finally comfortable having the conversation about politics,” Caskey said. “It’s not unladylike, and if it is, we don’t care anymore.”

Suburban women remain a key demographic to win

Female suburban voters have long been courted by Republicans and Democrats as a key demographic to earn in elections.

Women are more likely to turn out and vote than men, said Karen Kedrowski, director of the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics at Iowa State. In the 2016 presidential election, nearly 10 million more women voted than men.

And unlike urban areas that are dependably Democratic, the most “cross-checkered” group is suburban women, Kedrowski said.

They are most likely white and college-educated. Many of them are also socially conservative, prosperous and typically want lower property taxes and fewer business regulations that are promoted by Republicans, Kedrowski said.

In Ankeny’s Precinct 12, which has grown rapidly and is regarded as representative of the shifting demographics of Des Moines’ suburbs, 1,324 votes were cast for Hillary Clinton, while Trump narrowly won with 1,523 votes.

Mitt Romney won the precinct with similar narrow margins with 1,069 votes over Barack Obama’s 822 votes in the precinct.

In the rest of Polk County, which includes the city of Des Moines, Clinton won with 51% of the vote in 2016 while Trump won 40%.

Even Trump directly asked suburban women to vote for him during a rally Johnstown, Pennsylvania on Oct. 13.

In front of a crowd of women holding up “Women for Trump” and “Pro-Life Voices for Trump” signs, the president said, “Suburban women, will you please like me? Please, I saved your damn neighborhood, okay?”

In Iowa, the latest Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll also shows Trump with an edge over Biden. Poll respondents said they favored the Republican incumbent 48% to 41%.

But demographics and ideologies have slowly been changing, Kedrowski said.

Millennials and Gen X populations are buying homes in the suburbs and they’re bringing more left-leaning viewpoints with them. 

In 2019, Ankeny was ranked the 10th-fastest growing city in the U.S., attracting an average of seven new residents a day. 

Compared to the rest of the state that is quickly aging, a city like Ankeny is relatively young with a median age of 32, according to the U.S. Census Burea.

And by 2050, Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning Organization forecasts the metro region’s racial and ethnic diversity will increase to 31% of the population being non-white, up from 16% in 2010, with Latinos representing the fastest-growing group by ethnicity.

Historically, Black and Latino voters have voted reliably blue.

“They’re taking their attitudes with them,” Kedrowski said. “In Des Moines in particular, districts that were previously solidly Republican are now competitive.”

That slow shift is visible to Shundrea Trotty, who moved to Altoona two years ago. Prior to Altoona, she lived in Pleasant Hill for six years and primarily Des Moines before that.

Trotty, a 43-year-old Black woman, said she left Des Moines because she wanted to enroll her son in the Southeast Polk school district, which has more resources for his specialized learning, she said.

But the move exposed her and her family to more “covert behaviors” because of their race, she said.

School officials assumed her son would require free or reduced lunch, as well as a bus for transportation, she said. In actuality, she told them she’s a doctorial candidate with a well-paying job.

There was also the initial “sideye” she said she received in her neighborhood until people realized she lived there. Then she said she felt like they were almost too eager to say hi and seem like the “friendly ones,” she said.

There have also been comments from adults about Altoona losing its “small town feel,” which she believes is coded language for discomfort with the growing diversity in the city.

“They talk about moving even further east,” Trotty said.

But she said she also notices more people around her talking about racial justice and social issues than ever before. She said white Republican and Democratic women are talking about racial and gender disparities, which wasn’t as common before.

The attitude that’s been the biggest change have come from younger people, however.

“There’s a new generation of people rising up, there’s non-traditional families,” Trotty said. “So many young people have been empowered to examine the identities they hold.

Trotty already cast her ballot for Democrats Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. Like many other women, one of her biggest concerns is the handling of COVID-19 and health care in the U.S.

Republican women in suburbs share concerns over security, economy

While demographic changes may sway some voting trends toward Democrats, lifelong Republicans in the area maintain the strong urgency to vote.

Judi Murphy, 70, moved to Urbandale nearly 30 years ago near Living History Farms

She watched the sleepy suburb transform to a high-traffic area just off the interstate.

One of her most recent concerns is the “attack on police” and the protests over the summer from the Black Lives Matter movement. 

Murphy said she remembers how the community came together when Scott Michael Greene shot and killed Urbandale police officer Justin Martin and Des Moines Sgt. Tony Beminio in 2016.

Her support for law enforcement is one of the reasons Murphy said she’s voting for Republican President Donald Trump.

“I have a high degree of respect for them,” Murphy said of police. “They’re talking about pulling money away from our police department and putting it into other areas. I think in this atmosphere, I don’t think any social workers would want to go out and face these things in this community.”

Murphy is not alone in her sentiment. 

An AARP poll of Iowa voters who are 50 and older showed 56% wanted a candidate who focused on maintaining law and order. That compared to 36% who preferred a candidate focus on racial justice and reducing police violence against Black Americans, according to the September poll.

Kedrowski said conservative candidates focusing on safety and security has historically been used to mobilize Republican women in the suburbs.

She said “security moms” have replaced “soccer moms” and Republicans have capitalized on fears over the Black Lives Matter protests. This was seen after 9/11 and also used by President Richard Nixon, Kedrowski said.

“Black Lives Matter has become a shorthand for civil unrest,” Kedrowski said. “This is the next chapter of this story.”

Beyond safety concerns, Murphy said she is concerned about the rising property taxes in Urbandale and the economy.

She fears that when she and her husband retire, their fixed incomes will make it impossible for them to deal with rising taxes. As they pay off their home, Murphy said Trump’s tax breaks have proven beneficial for them, while she fears a Biden and Harris ticket would result in higher taxes

“We have done better in the last four years financially,” Murphy said.

Murphy said she understands people need a place to live, but she doesn’t like living in the city.

She doesn’t want zoning laws to change or an increase in apartments and multi-unit housing in her area.

“I’m a country girl at heart,” Murphy said.

Gloria Mazza, 67, lives in Clive and is the president of the Capitol Region Republican Women.

Mazza said she doesn’t like Trump’s rhetoric, but believes he’s followed through on his promises.

Gloria Mazza, president of Capitol Region Republican Women, takes a photo with former U.S. Attorney General Matt Whitaker. (Photo submitted by Gloria Mazza)

She said she likes that he removed some environmental and small business regulations that were cumbersome for farmers and entrepreneurs.

She also said she appreciates the money he provided Iowa during the derecho and the two record-breaking corn sales she said Trump achieved in negotiations with China right before the storm hit.

“You have to go and take the noise out,” Mazza said.

Mazza isn’t shy about sharing her political views. She served as the executive director of the Polk County Republicans in 2015-16 and was the past president of the Iowa Federation of Republican Women.

But for the first time in her life, Mazza said she’s lost friends because of her views.

“I’ve literally been defriended by friends because I support Trump,” Mazza said. “I’ve been voting in a lot of elections and it wasn’t something that divided you.”

She remembers her first year voting. 

After the election results came out, it was midnight and the television went gray.

That’s what she feels the country needs after Tuesday.

“We all need to hear some fuzz,” Mazza said.

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