Winning the hearts, minds and support of the latter group -- single women -- may be the key to winning the 2012 election.
Single and Liberal
Studies have shown that single women tend to be liberal but become more conservative once they're married. This occurs because married men are more likely to identify with the Republican Party while single women more often align themselves with the Democratic Party.
When a woman regains her single status later in life due to divorce or a spouse's death, she often returns to a more liberal outlook. Viewpoints that developed due to her economic and psychological dependence on her husband reset themselves when the marriage ends. She often finds her political opinions shift as she spends more time with female friends and is exposed to a wider variety of political perspectives.
Contraception: Short-Term Cost, Long Term Benefits
Although single women enjoy economic independence, their household income lags behind that of married women who benefit from a two-paycheck household. When every penny counts, issues such as health care coverage take on greater importance. For many single women, preventive health care services including contraception is essential for three reasons: free birth control means one less out-of-pocket expense; it provides all women, regardless of means, access to family planning information and resources; and the ability to delay pregnancy and child-rearing is another means of self-determination and self-sufficiency.
Some candidates have cited the meager cost of some forms of birth control and belittle women who want to have it covered. In doing so, they overlook the fact that women continue to earn less on average than men. While some have described contraceptive coverage as "the government paying for women to have sex," the reality is that even small expenditures to prevent unplanned pregnancy reap great economic rewards in terms of savings down the road. Prenatal care, hospitalization for labor and delivery, and the costs associated with infant care are all much greater than the cost of birth control pills or other forms of prescription contraceptives.
Pay Equity Matters
While women are as worried about the economy as men, Democratic pollster Celinda Lake, president of the public opinion and political strategy firm Lake Research Partners (LRP), sees that gender and pay equity are of particular concern to unmarried women. In an interview earlier this year with Bloomberg Businessweek, she observed that "paycheck fairness is one of their top economic issues....These women are feeling very economically marginalized."
Not reaching out to this group could cost candidates at the ballot box. The impact of unmarried women on the 2012 election has the potential to be significant...if they turn out to vote.
The Rising American Electorate's Biggest Group
Unmarried women make up about 37% of what Lake Research Partners calls "the rising American electorate" which also includes adults 18-29, African Americans and Latinos. Taken as a whole, the RAE represents 111 million eligible voters, 53% of all eligible voters nationwide. Unmarried women are the largest segment of the rising American electorate.
By examining data from the Current Population Survey (CPS), a monthly survey of about 50,000 households conducted by the Bureau of the Census for the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Lake Research Partners has identified unmarried women as the largest segment of the vote eligible population. In 2010, the CPS estimated that there were 44,782,087 single women eligible to vote in the U.S. A decade later in 2010, that number had grown to 53,106,959 -- an increase of 8.3 million or 19%.
Single Women in Battleground States
The overall national percentage of unmarried women is 25.2%, but 19 states have a higher percentage of single women than the national percentage. These include the 2012 election battleground states of Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico and North Carolina, along with South Carolina, California, Illinois, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, Alabama, Mississippi and Rhode Island.
By Election Day 2012 the number of unmarried women in the vote eligible population is expected to reach 54,950,000 -- an increase of 1.8 million.
Single Women and Voter Turnout
This voting block of unmarried women are largely credited for Barack Obama's win in 2008. An estimated 59.8% of unmarried women turned out to vote in 2008, but their numbers fell sharply to 38.3% in the 2010 election. That year, the biggest drop in the voter turnout of unmarried women occurred in states that are once again battleground states in the 2012 election: Virginia (34%), Michigan (27%), Ohio (23%), Pennsylvania (23%), and Florida (21%). A Republican or Democratic win in those key states may hinge on how many unmarried women voters head to the polls on election day.
Registering Single Women Voters
Ultimately, unmarried women can have an enormous influence on an election if they are engaged in the issues, interested in the candidates the political parties put forward, and are registered to vote. However, in 2010 an estimated 38.9% of unmarried women who were eligible to vote were not registered. Efforts like this year's National Voter Registration Day on September 25 -- which enlisted celebrities and social media to get the word out -- can help. But for single women to come out in record numbers, they need to feel their concerns are represented or at least respected. No matter what party is wages "a war on women," if single women see themselves on the losing end of the battle with no hope of any sort of win, they'll sit this one out.
Lake, Celinda and Joshua Ulibarri. "The Rising American Electorate: Their Growing Numbers and Political Potential." Slideshow by Lake Research Partners, www.lakeresearch.com. 6 December 2011.
Litvan, Laura. "Single Women Voters Focus of Democrats' Equal-Pay Appeal." Businessweek.com. 25 May 2012.
Struber, Shikole. "The Effect of Marriage on Political Identification." Studentpulse.com. Vol. 2, no. 01, 2010.