Women´s Voices, Women Vote
Will women decide the next president?
Unmarried women make up the largest bloc of non-voters in the nation. More than 26% of eligible votersâ53 million peopleâare unmarried women. And for the first time in U.S. history there are as many voting-eligible women who are unmarried as married. Unmarried women are growing at twice the rate of married women since 2000, but are 9 percentage points less likely to register and 13 percentage points less likely to vote than married women.
Womenâs Voices, Women Vote (WVWV) is targeting 25 states in an effort to register more than 1 million unmarried women and reach out to an additional 3 million âlowpropensity votersâ (unmarried women who are registered but didnât vote in at least one of the last two presidential elections).
âWe are making sure the voices of women on their own are heard in the political process,â said Page Gardner, WVWV founder and president. âParticularly, that they are heard from in terms of the strength of their numbers. Polling shows that these women are paying attention earlier than ever before and they are motivated. They are wanting change, they are desperate for change and we are going to see their participation go up.â
Gardner points to a recent study by the polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner that showed 85% of unmarried women saying they are so frustrated with the direction of the country, they are more likely to vote.
Gardner said WVWV understands that itâs not just about registering the voters, but also getting them to cast their ballots.
âGiven their income, many of these women are incredibly stretched,â Gardner said. âWe have to not only take the registration to them, we have to take the voting booth to them too.â
She said that in 2006 they conducted a vote-by-mail program that was âextraordinarily successful.â The vote-bymail applications allow women to vote at their convenience and take their time to study the candidates. The group also has a strong online presence, including widgets and banners that people can place on their own sites, allowing visitors to watch a â20 Million Reasonsâ PSA campaign and register to vote.
Courting the âSingle Anxious Femaleâ
In contrast to married women, Gardner said, economic issues drive the politics of unmarried women. She points to the fact that 44% of them live in households with annual incomes of $30,000 or less, while approximately 44% of married women live in households that earn more than $75,000 annually. One in five unmarried women lacks health care, and 50% of children who are age 6 or younger and reside with single moms live in poverty. The connection between this voting blocâs economic concerns and its potential power at the polls isnât lost on Ann Lewis, senior adviser at Hillary Clinton for President. Lewis coined the phrase âsingle anxious female,â which has since gained traction in the press.
âI was talking to a reporter who used a term I didnât likeâsomething that sounded too âSex and the City,ââ Lewis told me. âSo I said that [term] wasnât accurate; the biggest common factor was economic anxiety, more like âsingle anxious female.ââ
According to Lewis, the Clinton campaign has a layered program to connect with âwomen on their ownâ and make an impact.
âWe know that they are more likely to be economically vulnerable,â she said of this demographic, âand to think of themselves as outsiders to the political system. So our outreach programs include an emphasis on economic issues that make a difference in their livesâlike equal payâwhere Hillary has been the leader in the Senate on strengthening equal pay laws.
We also did a series of events around Equal Pay Day in the early primary states and nationwide. In New Hampshire, we held a panel discussion led by Evelyn Murphy, an expert on equal pay, and released a list of women supporters, including the [New Hampshire] cochair who was also the first woman firefighter in the state. In Iowa, [former first lady of Iowa] Christie Vilsack did a press conference with two cakesâone whole one representing menâs pay, and one with a big slice taken out for womenâs pay; in Nevada, an open letter was signed by many women urging support for Hillaryâs equal pay bill.
ââŚWe also featured a calculator on our Web site where women could figure out their own wage gap,â Lewis added. âHillary also often talks about her commitment to Social Securityâand her opposition to Republican attempts to privatize itâas an example of where she stands up and fights. Single women also often have family responsibilitiesâ Hillary talks about her work for childrenâs health, and also issues like long-term care, because being responsible for aging parents is a growing concern.â Audrey Waters, a representative for the John Edwards for President campaign, said that Sen. Edwards has an agenda that strikes a chord with all women, and his economic platform in particular appeals to unmarried women.
âSen. Edwards has proposed a bold and specific policy agenda on issues that most directly impact women voters,â Waters said. âWeâre proud of the tremendous support it has earned Sen. Edwards among women.â She also points to the campaign Web siteâs Women for Edwards page and âan extensive outreach effort, led in part by NARAL Pro-Choice America President Emeritus Kate Michelman, who has campaigned for us in New Hampshire and other early states.â
While Lewis and Waters both point to the importance their campaigns place on addressing issues of particular concern to unmarried women, the Obama for America campaign seems to have a different approach.
âWomen connect with Barackâs message regardless of age, marital status or income because of the new ideas and real change heâll bring to Washington,â Obama representative Jen Psaki said. âAll women are tired of politicians telling them what they want to hear; Barack tells them what they need to hear. They want an end to divisive politics in Washington and Barack is the only candidate whoâs actually worked to bring people together to get things done that matter to peopleâin the Illinois and U.S. Senate heâs been able to bring Republicans and Democrats together to pass ethics reforms, health care for uninsured children, domestic violence prevention, and bring change to the way government works.â
Psaki described the Obama campaignâs outreach efforts. âWe have a broad approach to communicating with women and some of that outreach connects in particular with younger, unmarried women through blogs, emails, e-newsletters and podcasts,â she said. âBut the most effective way to reach out to undecided women is through the one-on-one contact that our supporters have with their undecided friends, family, colleagues and neighbors. Itâs that kind of outreach thatâs created our 20,000-women-strong grassroots organization, Women for Obama. These women have hosted house parties, book clubs, phone banks, Girls Night Out, canvassing and other grassroots events to bring women together with other women to talk about their support for Obama.â
Lewis also said that the Clinton campaign works hard in its outreach efforts to address the feelings that unmarried women have of being political outsiders.
âOur program in Iowa, for example, is geared to encouraging people, especially women, who have not caucused before: [through] our Caucus with a Buddy program and the video Caucusing is Easy,â Lewis said. âWe also feature women as messengers, knowing that woman-to-woman communication can be particularly effective. Single women strongly support having more women in elected office; many of our surrogates are elected women leaders.â
Becoming Washingtonâs Agenda
While the campaigns vie for the voting bloc that the Greenberg Quinlan Rosner study described as âhav[ing] the power to reshape American politics further, if they vote,â Gardner and WVWV will continue to do the hard work to make sure their voices are heard. She said they have partnered with both state and national organizations, including state-based and national groups USAction Education Fund, Working America and others.
âOur attitude is, âSteal this book,â Gardner said. âWe share our materials, research, listsâanything to help [other 501(c)(3)] organizations increase the participation rates of unmarried women âŚ anyone interested in doing that, we consider partners.â
Gardner said that the organizationâs voter lists have grown in value every year since WVWVâs founding in 2004, and their programs are increasingly innovative. âWe have the best marital status modelâpredicting the likelihood that a person is unmarriedâin the country,â she said.
âWe have designed a model to predict who is and who is not likely to respond to voter registration and voteby- mail efforts, so that helps organizations use their dollars wisely. And we know the issues that concern these women, so we can ensure that we are talking to them in a way that resonates.â
Gardner said she knows the impact that unmarried women can haveânot only in 2008, but also in the years ahead. âWhat weâre trying to do by making this group of women heardânot just through voting, but advocating for their issues, and making sure politicians see their powerâ[is allow them to be] the decisive factor in so many races
âŚ We are saying that their issues of concern need to be at the top of the list. Their power when they participate is astounding. We want that power realized, and their agenda to become Americaâs agenda.â
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