Updated May 22, 2020 - Politics & Policy

2020's newest swing voters: Zoom moms

Illustration of three laptops facing each other with hands emerging from the screens interacting with one another 

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

She can't be a soccer mom because soccer's canceled. She's not a conventional security mom since America's biggest threat is now measured in microns. In an election year defined by the coronavirus, the new voter to watch is the Zoom mom.

Why it matters: The presidency may hinge on the women's vote — how many white, suburban women who backed President Trump in 2016 will abandon him now, and how many women of color who stayed home four years ago will turn out for Joe Biden.

  • Women's rapidly growing use of video calls to socialize means that's where these conversations are now happening (sometimes with wine).
  • It's also where candidates may try to persuade and mobilize if they can't do it in person.
  • That's why Zoom moms could be to this year's campaigns what soccer moms were in 1996 and security moms were after 9/11.

What they're saying: "What campaigns will be looking to do is equip these Zoom moms to do more organizing, more persuasion, more voter registration and more communicating in their networks — in their book club, in their church club, in their moms' Listserv," said Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster who has done some polling for the Biden campaign.

  • "It may be a new way of operating even when we can operate in person again."

Details: Since early in the pandemic, the share of Americans using video calls has swelled from less than half to around two-thirds, with women leading the way, says Chris Jackson, senior vice president for Ipsos Public Affairs and pollster for the Axios-Ipsos Coronavirus Index.

  • Women account for 56% of American adults who say they participate in videoconferences each week, our polling finds.
  • Of those women, 40% are Democrats, 25% are Republicans and 36% are independents.
  • "It's middle- and upper-income women," Jackson said. "Mothers particularly have a higher rate. It's women under the age of 55."

We asked Zoom how the coronavirus is affecting calls, and the findings are striking. Average daily call participants rose from 200m in April to 300m this week, a spokesperson says.

  • Weekend meetings are up a whopping 1,900%. Weeknights 5–9 pm are up 700%.

Between the lines: Politics isn't the leading topic of discussion for women, according to the Axios-Ipsos data. But one in four say they're talking about politics and current events. That's millions of voters.

  • About half the women talking politics on video calls are Democrats; the rest are a combination of independents and Republicans.
  • Men actually discuss news and politics more than women on video calls. But because more women are more likely to use video calls, they're fostering a bigger network for political discussion.

By the numbers: Suburban women gave Trump an edge in 2016 but carried Democrats in the 2018 midterms. Now, polls show many are unhappy with the president's handling of the public health crisis.

  • The president's overall approval/disapproval margins for his handling of the coronavirus shifted 24 points, from +10 to -14, between March 23 and May 15, according to progressive group Navigator's daily tracking.
  • That's more pronounced among women, and it's most dramatic with women under 55: a 38-point shift, from +12 (51%-39%) to -26 (35%-61%).

To conduct its own outreach, the Trump campaign launched a new digital show on Wednesday called "The Right View," which is hosted by four GOP women on Team Trump and targets conservative women and moms. The campaign tells Axios it will air every Wednesday at 8pm ET across all of its digital platforms.

  • It's Republicans' answer to "The View" on ABC, a talk show for women that covers politics but that the Trump campaign views as too liberal.
  • "The Right View" is hosted by Lara Trump, Kimberly Guilfoyle, Mercedes Schlapp and Katrina Pierson.
  • The Biden campaign, meanwhile, is offering supporters free downloads of Zoom backgrounds they can use — images of Biden with rally crowds and the bookshelf wall in his basement TV studio. 

Democratic strategist Jesse Ferguson, the first person we heard use the term "Zoom moms," tells Axios that long before the coronavirus, focus groups were showing suburban women "had problems with Trump’s character flaws," but many didn't see concrete negative consequences for their own lives until the pandemic.

But, but, but: Trump has been more sophisticated about digital strategy and online fundraising than Biden so far.

Eric Wilson, a veteran GOP digital strategist, tells Axios that videoconferencing is an extension of text messaging or WhatsApp. Campaigns don’t have visibility into the private exchanges, but they know they can be highly influential.

  • "That network has the ability to undo weeks of paid advertising" targeting a voter and that puts a greater emphasis on relational organizing, he said.
  • "It's kind of untethering you from your geographic neighbors, so you’re probably not discussing local issues. ... It’s becoming more a referendum of how you feel about who’s at the top of the ticket."

One fun thing: Though the sample size is small, our polling also suggests a correlation between drinking and talking politics.

  • More than half of the women who acknowledge using video calls for happy hours say they're also discussing politics. Of those who don't drink on video calls, only one in five say politics comes up.

Go deeper: What Zoom women are saying

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