Founder & Executive Editor, The WIP
- USA -
Every year this nation’s priorities move further and further away from the concerns of the majority of American citizens, making daily life harder and harder. The prices we pay for housing, utilities, medications, transportation and food are all going up. Meanwhile, big business interests, profiting every time we lose, monopolize our policymakers’ attention. While companies boasting record profits are rewarded with tax breaks, ordinary citizens struggle each day to get basic needs met for themselves and their families.
In 2004 65% of women voted. Despite this high participation rate, the turnout was predominantly married women voters. Twenty million unmarried women stayed home on Election Day. Page Gardener developed Women’s Voices. Women Vote to improve unmarried women's participation in the electorate and policy process. Last month I interviewed her to learn more about the campaign. I found out that marriage is one of the top four determinants in whether women in this country vote. I learned that unmarried women form the fastest growing large bloc of voters. I was told about the unique economic circumstances unifying unmarried women. They earn less, have less health care, and more of their children live in poverty than any other bloc of Americans. I learned that more than ever they are interested in this election. They want change and will be turning out to vote. And Women’s Voices. Women Vote is doing everything they can to make sure this happens. Page Gardener recognizes that 20 million unmarried women not voting – single, divorced, separated or widowed – means there is an important missing voice in our democracy.The striking economic circumstance of unmarried women when compared to their married counterparts begins with income. While 44% of unmarried women live in households of incomes of $30,000 or less, 44% of married women live in households earning $75,000 or more. The majority of households in this country are now headed by an unmarried person – single Americans caring for children, elderly parents, and other dependants. They are economically stretched – one out of five unmarried women in this country has no healthcare and half of all children six and under who live with unmarried mothers are living in poverty. As Page Gardener put it, “This is an indictment.” Policy makers are reckless to ignore this economic reality. When this group mobilizes they will discover that they have to address unmarried women’s concerns if they want to stay in office.
According to Gardener, unmarried women are “sick of the way things are going, and they want this country to go in a new direction.” These women feel America is not doing enough about problems on the home front, the problems most significant in their lives. They struggle financially, their lives are difficult, and they want our leaders to make them a national priority. The good news, Gardener finds, is that they are making their voices heard in record numbers at the voting booth. In 2006 they were the largest “change” voters. As their power becomes more evident, it will be harder and harder for policy makers to ignore their calls for adequate housing, healthcare, and other domestic issues affecting them.
While domestic issues are the primary concern of unmarried women voters, like married women, they are incredibly patriotic and concerned about this country. They are concerned about family values, security issues and they mirror the concerns of the total population in many ways. As this population grows, however, it is their unique economic circumstances that set them apart and which creates the huge and growing cohort. “We’ve got this enormous growing demographic group and they have an agenda on their own, they are redefining the electorate, and they are redefining how we should look at America and the public policy agenda of our elected officials,” Gardener told me.Women’s Voices. Women Vote has found that 91% of the unmarried women voters they surveyed reported that their frustration with public policy made them more likely to vote in 2008. They are paying attention and are interested in record numbers. Polling data reported on their website shows that 64% of unmarried women voters usually considered unlikely to vote (eligible and registered, but who missed at least one of the last two presidential elections) now say they are “absolutely certain” to vote in 2008. Women’s Voices. Women Vote also found 77% of unmarried women voters are expressing a high level of interest in this election. “Unmarrieds, even those who don’t normally vote, are primed for this election and are open to politicians willing to engage them on issues important to them.”
Last week’s caucus in Iowa, according to a January 4 press release, serves as an indication that unmarried women are in fact utilizing their power. Unmarried Women Caucus in Record Numbers, reported that unmarried women did turn out in numbers greater than their overall share of Iowa’s population – a feat only married women used to achieve. “While unmarried women are 22 percent of the eligible voting age population in Iowa, network entrance polls report that they were 28 percent of participants in the Democratic caucus…Married women, by contrast, were in line with their proportion of the overall population, accounting for 29 percent of the eligible population in Iowa, and accounting for 29% of Democratic caucus attendees.” (Statistics from the Republican contest had not yet been released at the time of this press release.) According to Gardener, “The 28% of Iowan women on their own who caucused is the first example of the critical role unmarried women will play in the national discussion, demanding the attention of the Presidential candidates."
Women’s Voices. Women Vote has made the significant discovery that unmarried women are “a surging force in American politics.” Their power is not only in their numbers but also in their unified desire for change. In my conversation with Page Gardner, it came as no surprise to learn that her organization will have successfully registered over a million unmarried women during this election cycle. We can all do our part by joining Women’s Voices. Women Vote’s online campaign “20 million Reasons” and help register unmarried women to vote. Page Gardener also pointed out that it is important for media organizations like The WIP to write about unmarried women in America. “As these women see their lives reflected in the conversation around civic participation through articles in the newspaper, through the media…it is validating and [it] is also motivating. So, the more that we can reflect their lives and say… ‘we know you are out there, we know how powerful you are,’ the better, in terms of getting them to participate.” If unmarried women voted at the same rate as married women, over six million more voters would have gone to the polls in 2004.
Imagine the democracy. Imagine the power.