Monday, February 16, 2004
Forget the angry white men of 1994, the soccer moms of 1998 or the NASCAR dads of 2002. This year, Democrats believe that single women -- one- fifth of the nation's population and 42 percent of all registered women voters -- are the demographic-swing group that could decide a close election, oust President Bush and alter the political landscape in Congress.
Who are these unmarried women? They are never-married working women, divorced working mothers raising kids alone and widows who are worried about their economic security.
Last December, Celinda Lake and Stan Greenberg, two well-known Democratic pollsters, released the results of a survey that Democrats are taking to heart. "Unmarried women represent millions more voters with very clear concerns about the economy, health care and education," said Lake.
To this, Greenberg added, "If unmarried women voted at the same rate as married women, they would have a decisive impact on this (2004) election and could be the most important agents of change in modern politics."
The problem is that single women just don't exercise their electoral power. In the 2000 presidential election, 68 percent of married women went to the voting booth but only 52 percent of single women cast a vote.
That means that 6 million single women failed to vote in an election that hinged on a little more than half a million votes nationally and a few hundred votes in Florida.
The survey showed that single women could have altered the outcome of the 2000 election. Had single women -- who favored former Vice President Al Gore by 31 points -- voted at the same rate as married women in Florida and other swing states, Gore now would be sitting in the Oval Office.
How do we know that single women would help elect a Democratic president? We don't necessarily; they are not particularly tied to any one party. But 65 percent of the single women surveyed -- a diverse group that crossed class, regional, ethnic and racial lines -- said the country is headed in the wrong direction.
The reasons for their disgruntlement are not hard to fathom. Single women, who mostly earn modest salaries, are not great supporters of either tax cuts for the wealthy or huge expenditures for war or the military.
Instead, they worry about economic security, health care, good schools and Social Security. They are also more likely to hold progressive views on abortion, gun control and gay rights -- all wedge issues that will influence voters' decisions in the next election.
So how do we mobilize this huge and diverse group of single women, described by Page Gardner, who manages the Women's Vote project, a nonpartisan research organization, as "the single largest demographic group of nonvoters?"
Democrats have already started reaching out to this untapped group, which includes 16 million unregistered single women and 22 million who are registered but don't vote.
In 2002, the Democratic National Committee launched a training program called Democratic Voices to prepare women to spread the Democratic Party's message to their friends and co-workers. The DNC plans to expand this outreach during the 2004 election.
But the party must be strategic. It needs to discover why this group feels so detached from politics or what keeps these women from registering and voting. Democrats also need to be more inclusive and explain how their policies and goals would address and improve the lives of single women, not only those of "working families."
They also might remind single women of the three generations of women and (a few good men) who braved relentless ridicule, social stigma and personal ostracism during the 70 years they campaigned for a woman's right to cast a vote. Although they launched the struggle for suffrage in 1848, it wasn't until 1920 that women became full-fledged citizens who could vote.
Opponents of suffrage, amplified by millions of female voices, argued that women didn't really want to participate in the political process and were quite happy, thank you very much, to let men make the decisions and shape the future of the nation.
Single women need to prove these opponents were dead wrong. If she were still alive, Abigail Scott Dunaway, the 19th-century Oregon suffragist would explain that they also have a debt to those who came before us. Speaking to the single women of her time, she said:
"The young women of today, free to study, to speak, to write, to choose their occupation, should remember that every inch of this freedom was bought for them at a great price. It is for them to show their gratitude by helping onward the reforms of their own times ... The debt that each generation owes to the past it must pay to the future."Spread the word: Single women could elect the next president.