Are 'soccer moms' actually swing voters?

In 1996, the American Dialect Society voted "soccer mom" its word of the year. A columnist at The Boston Globe termed it the "year of the soccer mom." If you tuned your television to coverage of that year's presidential race between then-President Bill Clinton and Sen. Bob Dole, you'd likely see coverage of the "soccer mom" vote; correspondents even went to the sidelines of children's soccer matches to hear from them. "Soccer moms" are not a demographic group that can be found in the census. Nor do they show up in the polls. But campaigns and the media started using the term as a shorthand for the kinds of white middle-to-upper-middle-class suburban women with kids at home that they thought might decide the 1996 election. They became an obsession, based on the idea that they were cross-pressured between the Republican and Democratic parties and could swing either way. Perhaps they supported policies favored by the Democratic Party like the Equal Rights Amendment, but also favored the tough-on-crime posture of the GOP. There was only one problem: It's not actually clear that these suburban women were swing voters or that they proved pivotal in the 1996 election. It's also not clear that the evolution of the "soccer mom" trope and today's enduring interest in suburban women as swing voters are based on much rigor either. Enter the 538 Politics podcast. In our three-part mini-series, "Campaign Throwback," we're taking a look back at campaign tropes from past elections and assessing where those tropes came from, whether they were actually true at the time and if they still hold up today. In our first installment, we looked at the famous James Carville political wisdom, "it's the economy stupid." In our second installment, we look at "soccer moms." Clinton won his first term in what was termed the "year of the woman," after a record number of women ran for office and won in 1992. And as the 1996 election took shape, gender politics were still at the forefront of campaign coverage. Clinton's popularity was growing and Dole was lagging in the early polls, and the idea took hold that "soccer moms" might either save Dole's chances or ensure that Clinton made it over the edge. But when the election was all said and done, was that conventional wisdom correct? Listen to the episode below, or wherever you get your podcasts, and make sure to subscribe to the 538 Politics podcast.