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Thomas F. Coleman
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Thomas F. Coleman
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News Article
Associated Press
October 22, 2000

Unmarried Voters Largely Ignored in Presidential Race

by Mike Schneider
Orlando Bureau

During the first presidential debate, Al Gore mentioned the word "family" 13 times and said "parents" four times. George W. Bush referred to "families" twice and "parents" once.

Neither said "single" or "unmarried," so it's no small wonder that Yvonne Farrell is feeling left out this election season. The 38-year-old programs assistant at St. Alban's Parish in Washington is unmarried and she feels like none of the presidential or vice presidential candidates is paying her any attention.

"I go through the campaign literature ... and all I see is family, family, family," said Farrell, who is divorced with no children. "They shouldn't act like we're poison."

Unmarried voters without children are casualties of the battle between Democrats and Republicans as to which party can wave the family-values flag higher, said Thomas Coleman, executive director of the Los Angeles-based advocacy group American Association for Single People.

Having been cast as opposing family values in past presidential races and tainted by the Monica Lewinsky scandal, Democrats feel they have to "look more family-oriented and say 'families' more than the Republicans," Coleman said.

"They want to win the family-values debate," he said. "We have nothing against that, but how about a little more balance?"

Even Ralph Nader, a bachelor who is the Green Party's presidential candidate, has ignored issues important to singles. When a 34-year-old single woman attending the third presidential debate in St. Louis asked George W. Bush and Al Gore what they would do for her, both passed up an opportunity to make a pitch to single voters.

Almost 80 million people, or about 40 percent of people over age 18, are widowed, divorced or have never married, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

"You're treated like a social leper," said Charlie Hoeck, 48, an Orlando library worker who is divorced. "That's why I like Nader so much. He's a social leper too, so it's easy for me to relate to him."

To rectify the situation, the American Association for Single People has launched a $114,000 advertising campaign drawing attention to unmarried voters without children. Ads have run in USA Today and the Los Angeles Times and will run later in Student Leader, The Village Voice and L.A. Weekly.

"Are you one of the 80 million single or unmarried adults ignored by the George W. Bush and Al Gore campaigns?" the ad said. "How many ways are we discriminated against? Let us count them for you."

Single people receive fewer job benefits, such as health insurance for spouses and children, according to the ad. They are often lumped into a "high risk" class by insurance companies and charged a higher rate than their married co-workers. They are denied "family" discounts for roommates or partners. Married couples are not taxed by the federal government for workplace benefits or inheritance when a spouse dies, while unmarried people are taxed under similar circumstances.

There is no federal protection against marital bias in employment, housing or business transactions, the ad said.

Susan Sulsky, 46, who works in advertising sales for the Los Angeles Times, would just like to have the same family-leave time parents get in case she wants to take care of an ailing neighbor or a close friend.

"If you're single without children, you create you're own family," said Sulsky, who is unmarried in Los Angeles.

Republican vice presidential candidate Dick Cheney disagrees that the Bush campaign is ignoring singles.

"I don't feel that we've discriminated against anybody on the basis of whether they are married or single," Cheney said this week during a stop in Ocala, Fla.

Gore campaign spokesman Liz Lubow said that while the campaign doesn't have any specific proposals targeting singles, unmarried people would benefit from Gore policies affecting everyone, such as a patient bill of rights and a tax credit for employers who train workers.

"Certainly Al Gore and Joe Lieberman are fighting for everyone," Lubow said.

Reform Party presidential candidate Pat Buchanan said his campaign doesn't have any specific proposals for unmarried people.

"All my proposals are pretty much directed to all Americans," he said during a campaign stop in +Orlando+. "I'm not a big believer in group rights."

While mostly silent on singles, here's what the major presidential candidates are offering families and married people:

_ Bush has proposed doubling the child tax credit to $1,000 and reducing the marriage penalty paid by many two-income couples by allowing a deduction of 10 percent of the lower-earning spouse's salary, up to $30,000.

_ Gore wants to expand the tax credit for child care expenses so families can claim half of expenses, up from 30 percent, allow parents at home with babies up to age 1 to claim care expenses of $500 and expand the family leave law to cover employees in firms with 25 or more workers. Gore also supports raising the standard deduction for married couples to ease the marriage penalty for those who do not itemize deductions.

The major candidates are ignoring a large segment of the electorate, said Natural Law Party presidential candidate John Hagelin, a member of the American Association of Single People, who is on the ballot in 41 states.

"There is a continuous pandering to working middle-class families," said Hagelin, who is divorced with no children. "I don't understand the pandering to that important interest group when there are as many single people and they don't seem to be mentioned."

Singles may never become a potent political force because the group is always changing.

"There are always people entering it and there are people leaving it," Coleman said. "When you're a women or if you're black, you're that for life."

Orlando attorney Kurt Brewer, who is single, doesn't have a problem with the emphasis on families.

"The presidential race is only a simple reflection of the way society treats singles," said Brewer, a 31-year-old Republican who is voting for Bush. "Honestly, I don't care. I understand the social policy behind supporting families."


This story was carried by newspapers from coast to coast.

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