This should be my moment. I'm
a single woman, and at last, the political world has
discovered me. People in my demographic, it has been
reported, stayed away from the 2000 presidential election in
droves, and wow, could we have made a difference if we had
shown up. The single women who did make it to the polls
supported Al Gore overwhelmingly — about two-thirds voted
for him, while a little less than one-third voted for
George W. Bush, according to surveys.
In contrast, married women
split their votes about evenly for Mr. Bush and Mr. Gore.
But pollsters indicate that 68 percent of them showed up to
vote, compared to just 52 percent of the women who were
divorced, widowed, or had always been single.
In theory, I like where this
is going. I have strong opinions about human health and
well-being and about the place of America in the world, and
I'm ready to voice them.
To appeal to me, though, the
Democratic Party is offering me underwear. The panties sport
slogans like "Kiss Bush Goodbye." I can pick them up at
nightclubs or PantyWare parties.
Not to be outdone, CNN did a
cute segment on "lipstick liberals." A reporter took to the
streets to try out her guess about why single women do not
vote more often. "Is it scary to think about politics?" she
asked a young, successful, single woman.
No, it wasn't.
A pollster, Kellyanne Conway,
offered her own explanation: "Women who have what we call
the four magic M's — marriage, munchkins, mortgages and
mutual funds — are much more likely to vote than their
unmarried, non-stake-holding, non-ownership counterparts."
Ms. Conway also had a tip for single women to help them get
to the polls: "Pretend it's a hair appointment we would not
I get the message. The
political players are not out to engage me in a serious
discussion of the issues. As a single woman, I'm too
preoccupied with lipstick, hair and underwear. They need to
find a way to get me to the polls only this one time. Then,
by the next presidential election, perhaps I'll be married
and have a mortgage.
I have a different view about
2000. I don't think singles were cowering in fear of
politics, or too dazzled by the whirl of their social lives,
to get to the polls. I think they were singled out of a
system that ignored them. In one of the debates in the 2000
election, a woman from the audience tried to focus the
candidates on her demographic. "How will your tax proposals
affect me as a middle-class, 24-year-old single person with
no dependents?" she asked. Neither candidate acknowledged
that she was one of millions of single voters. Neither
promised to fight for the votes of single people. Mr. Bush
had the facts on his side; the questioner would keep more of
her money under his plan rather than under Mr. Gore's. But
Mr. Bush did not mention that. He did, though, describe the
great prescription drug plan she would get under Medicare.
Singles are getting another
message this year. No matter how many thousands of lives you
may have saved with your lifelong, relentless advocacy for
safer cars and workplaces, and purer food and water; no
matter how doggedly you have pursued the causes of
government and corporate accountability, and inspired
countless others to do the same, you can still be dismissed
as immature and irresponsible if you are not married.
Chris Matthews, host of the
MSNBC program "Hardball," captured that sentiment when he
said this to
Nader about the current president: "He's raised two
daughters; he's had a happy marriage. You've never been
married. Isn't he more mature in his lifestyle than you
are?" The unmarried Mr. Nader, Mr. Matthews said, lives "a
life that's about as responsible as what's on the movies
So what's a candidate to do?
Here are four suggestions.
1. Hit the books. Learn about
the real place of singles in contemporary American society.
Singles account for more than 40 percent of the electorate
and work force. Households consisting of two parents and
their children are slightly outnumbered by households
comprised of a single person living alone. And most singles
do not live alone. About nine million households are
single-parent homes. Singles are also homeowners. Last year,
they accounted for 46.7 percent of house sales. Singles are
not predominantly youthful; only a third are aged 18 to 29.
Singlehood is no longer a way station on the road to
marriage. Women on average now spend more years of their
adult lives single than married, and men are not far behind.
2. Learn the actual voting
patterns. Despite the hype, it was not single women who had
the lowest rate of voting in 2000, but single men. In their
candidate preferences, the men stood out in their support of
Ralph Nader (7 percent, compared to 4 percent for single
women, and 2 percent for married men and women).
3. Master the issues of
concern to singles. You will find, for example, that singles
would like to make a decent living, have affordable health
care and enjoy retirement. Their values are not antifamily —
they are human values. The language of singles is the
language of inclusiveness. Here is an example: "If you are
willing to work hard and play by the rules, you are part of
our family, and we're proud to be with you." It is from Bill
Clinton's 1996 speech accepting the Democratic nomination
4. Oh, and about those
panties? Kiss them goodbye.
Bella M. DePaulo is a visiting
professor of psychology at the University of California,