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AASP would be pleased
to publish articles with
other views on what the
candidates would do for
single and unmarried voters.

 

Commentary
by Mimi Hall
- - -
USA Today
October 26, 2000

 

Candidates' family values seem to skip singles


A commentary by Mimi Hall was published on October 26, 2000 in USA Today.  The article discusses how Bush and Gore are playing the "family values" theme in their campaigns, with perks and benefits for parents, children, married couples, and families -- but with no outreach to single and unmarried voters.  The following is a summary of what Hall said.

Hall opens her commentary by observing that Lisa Kee had heard enough from the presidential contenders about ''working families'' and all the breaks they should get as they struggle to raise their kids.

She wanted to know what was in it for her.

So at the final presidential debate of the election season last week, Kee stood up and spoke for the nation's 41 million single people when she asked Al Gore and George W. Bush a simple question: ''How will your tax proposals affect me as a middle-class, 34-year-old single person with no dependents?''

Hall suspects that neither candidate had given the matter much thought. Gore, she says, mistakenly recited numbers affecting married couples. Bush offered only the vaguest reassurance that under his plan, Kee would ''get a tax refund.''

Analysts say it's no surprise Kee couldn't get a clear answer: Single people aren't an easily defined voting bloc, they have no noisy lobbying groups to argue their cause and, in the post-Lewinsky era, the candidates are trying to appeal to a public concerned about restoring family values to the White House.

Of the nation's 41 million single people (Hall must mean "never-married people" because there are 80 million unmarried people in all), nearly 11 million are over 64 and receive plenty of attention from politicians who know that they vote in large numbers and care passionately about issues such as Social Security and Medicare.

But more than 5 million singles are 18 to 24, people who traditionally are least likely to vote among registered voters.

The other 25 million singles, people from 25 to 64 who are not living with dependents or relatives, are not an insubstantial number, but not a massive voting bloc easily targeted by political strategists. They tend to be left out of the political debate because they have no exclusive set of issues that affect them, such as child-care costs or prescription-drug bills.

''We have a consultant-driven, focused campaign around certain groups: working families, minorities, elderly, small-business owners, and secular and religious conservatives a little,'' says Curtis Gans of the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate. ''Poor people, young people, single people, urban dwellers -- they're all left out.''

Clearly, the candidates didn't have single people on their minds at last week's debate.

When Gore answered Kee's question, he sounded authoritative, rattling off a series of numbers about how much Kee would get in matching tax credits depending on her earnings.

But his answer was wrong. Instead of addressing how she would fare as a single person under his plan, he gave her statistics that apply to families.

Aides said Gore misspoke. During debate practice sessions, they said, he had been drilled on the numbers affecting families, and those were the numbers that stuck in his head.

When the moderator turned to Bush, the Republican nominee said only that all taxpayers would get tax relief under his plan.

Then he quickly veered off onto other subjects, touching on everything from world peace to education.

Kee, an undecided voter who is leaning toward Bush primarily because of his opposition to abortion rights, says she doesn't fault either of the candidates for their answers.

Gore's mistake ''didn't really surprise me because I can't imagine how many statistics they have to have in their heads,'' she says.

As for Bush, he ''really didn't have an answer,'' she says. But ''I can't find fault. It has to be tough for them.''

Beyond all the talk about eliminating the ''marriage penalty'' tax and offering tax breaks for education, there are benefits for single people in both plans:

* Gore's tax cuts include credits for retirement savings that would benefit single people earning $50,000 a year or less. A single earning $50,000 a year, for example, would get a $250 tax credit from the government if he or she put $750 in a retirement account.

* Under Bush's plan, as he said, everyone would get a tax cut. How much would it be for Kee? The Eureka, Mo., mail carrier says she earns between $35,000 and $40,000 a year.

According to the accounting firm Deloitte & Touche, a single person earning $40,000 a year would pay $5,772 in federal taxes under current law and get no income-tax relief under Gore's plan other than the retirement credit. That same person would get a $496 income-tax cut under Bush's plan.

A single person earning $150,000 would pay $31,366 under current law and under Gore's plan. Under Bush's proposal, that person would pay $26,660, a savings of $4,706.

Henry Aaron, a budget and tax expert at the Brookings Institution, a liberal think tank, says single people like Kee should weigh whether they want a tax cut now or a healthier economy in the long term.

'' 'What's in it for me' is emphatically the wrong question,'' Aaron says.  ''This campaign should not be about which tax cut gives me more. It should be about which economic plan is better for the nation in general and me in the long run.''

Kee says she favors Bush's approach, despite the critics who complain that his tax cuts would squander the surplus to reward the wealthy.

''I have to agree with Bush on this one,'' she says. ''Even though it sounds unfair, like why would Bill Gates need money back? Because he pays so much more. I think that's fair.''

In any case, Kee says she was glad she raised the issue, even if the answers she got were flawed.

''Being single, no one ever talks about us,'' she says. ''It never comes up. I don't want to knock the family, but there are a lot of people who are single.''

She offers Bush and Gore some advice: They should pay more attention to single people -- especially in such a close election -- because when it comes time to go to the polls, ''I think a lot of them will go out and vote, where people with families have other priorities.''

 


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