Wednesday, December 3, 2003
Unmarried women and their
come election time
A story released today by AlterNet reports that unmarried women may hold the fate of the 2004 elections in the palm of their hands.
"Unmarried women, given what they think and feel, are the group with the greatest potential to be agents of progressive change in this country because of their size, their desire for change, and their record of under-voting," says Page Gardner, manager of the "Women's Voices Women's Vote" project.
Never-married, divorced or widowed women constitute a whopping 20 percent of the electorate and 42 percent of all registered women voters. In the 2000 elections, they represented the same percentage of the electorate as Jews, blacks, and Latinos combined. In terms of voting muscle, few can compete with the girl power of this constituency.
The good news is that they overwhelmingly vote Democrat. In fact, when viewed strictly in terms of percentage points, Bush led by one point among married women in 2000, while unmarried women preferred Al Gore by 31 points.
Their precarious position in the U.S. economy makes them more responsive to core Democratic messages about health care, job security, and retirement benefits. "Democrats stand for helping people make their way in the world and offering the protection and assurances they need to do so," says Ruy Teixeira, co-author along with John B. Judis of "The Emerging Democratic Majority." Given a labor market skewed toward men and their single-income status, single women welcome the presence of a nurturing Uncle Sam in their lives.
According to Democratic pollster Anna Greenberg, "This group is distinct from the overall electorate. They are very economically sensitive, and very Democratic."
Greenberg argues that the progressive bent of unmarried women goes deeper than just their marital status. Rather, they reflect deeper changes among women in general as a result of long-term cultural and demographic shifts. "This group of unmarried women is very distinct from unmarried women in previous generations," she says.
Research conducted by the Women's Vote project reveals a stark picture of political alienation. The top three reasons cited by survey respondents for not voting are: Politics and government seem so complicated that a person like me can't understand it; politicians don't listen to people like me; politics and elections are controlled by people with big money and big corporations. In other words, the constituency most affected by government policies – be it on retirement benefits or prescription drugs – also feels the most powerless to change them.
The aim of the Women's Vote project is to take the first step toward helping single women realize their immense political clout in 2004. The project, which has a high-powered advisory board of pollsters like Greenberg and Celinda Lake, is offering its research into this pivotal constituency for free for any voter registration effort, irrespective of party affiliation.
"We have to help these women understand that in fact size matters. They can absolutely determine the outcome of the election," Desser says.
In other words, the future of America may lie in the hands of its burgeoning population of single women – but only if they show up at the polls.