Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Unmarried women voted but still feel disenfranchised

A story published today in the San Jose Mercury News says that it's hard to keep track of the number of pre-election voting myths that have exploded since Nov. 2.

The hip-hop kids who were expected to be the salvation of the Democrats showed up in greater numbers than in 2000, but there weren't enough young voters to offset the huge turnout in the rest of the electorate. Disenfranchised voters in Florida who were left dangling from hanging chads in 2000 didn't rise up with the expected ``revenge vote.''

Even many of those who told pollsters that they didn't like the direction the country was headed rehired the navigator.

So, what ever happened to single women, that mysterious bloc of 22 million who didn't vote in the last election? Post-election polls show the gender gap still favors Democrats, though President Bush won more women to his side than he did in 2000. But there's another voting gap that has widened into a chasm, just as predicted. It's the marriage gap.

Differing priorities

According to a survey released last week by Democratic pollster Celinda Lake, married women voted for the president over Sen. John Kerry by an 11-point margin. But unmarried women preferred Kerry by a whopping 25 percentage points. Debate over what constitutes ``moral values'' is only a secondary cause of the rift within the gender gap. The difference in priorities is mainly about security, whether security means being safe from terrorism or being safe from layoffs and health-care cost nightmares.

Lake's poll showed that women voting for the president tended to say homeland security was their top priority, followed by moral values. Women who voted for Kerry said that the economy and health care were most important to them.

Apparently, when you're out there alone, maybe with kids to support, you're more worried about winding up in a homeless shelter than in a bomb shelter.

Chris Desser, who is based in San Francisco and co-director of the non-partisan voter participation project Women's Voices Women Vote, said her organization is still in the early stages of reaching out to single women who haven't voted in the past.

``They've felt for a long time like no one cares about what they think,'' she said. ``But when we're able to talk to them, one on one, they're very receptive. That's when they want to become part of the process.''

Outreach effective

She thinks that direct outreach is a big part of why there was a 4 percent increase in voter participation among single women in this election compared to 2000. She said it was spurred by making calls to these women, one by one, in 12 states that were targeted by WVWV. But the majority of those who were silent four years ago remained disengaged.

``We need to keep communicating to these women that their participation means something,'' Desser said. `` But we still have a lot of work to do.''

And, of course, the demographic is shifting all the time. Will the single women ages 18 to 64 earning less than $30,000 a year, who make up the largest segment of the non-voting population, continue to be most concerned about their physical and fiscal health even if they get married? Does having a husband and more financial security mean that more women will shift from worrying about paying the bills to worrying about getting blown up by terrorists?

Maybe the most pressing question is whether those single women who did come out to vote, after skipping the 2000 election, will return to the polls even if their candidate lost in 2004.

I have yet to hear anyone dare to make a prediction about that.