Getting Out the Singles Vote

Politicians love to pigeonhole voters into interest groups: Think soccer moms or NASCAR dads. All the better to target them with tailored campaign messages.

For the 2004 races, it turns out that unmarried women may be a choice target. At least that's the conclusion of a new study by Democratic pollsters Stanley Greenberg and Celinda Lake. The study is part of a project dubbed "Women's Voices. Women Vote," aimed at getting more unmarried women (those who are single, divorced, widowed, or separated) to register and go to the polls.

So far, this demographic bloc does not participate fully in the political process. Unmarried women account for 46 percent of all voting-age women. In the 2000 election, 16 million unmarried women didn't register to vote, and another 22 million were registered but didn't vote.

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If single women voted at the same rate as married women, there would be 6 million more voters in the 2004 election. Some 68 percent of married women voted in the last presidential election while only 52 percent of unmarried women cast ballots.

Unmarried women showed up at the polls proportionately less than their married counterparts in key battleground states where presidential elections are won or lost, such as Florida or Michigan. Getting more of them to the polls in those few states could tip the balance in deciding who wins the White House.

It's not certain which political party can win over more of these voters. Since 1960, the number of unmarried women calling themselves independents has doubled to 37 percent. By contrast, 44 percent say they are Democrats and 18 percent are Republicans.

Still, unmarried women clearly are of special interest to Democrats. In the 2000 election, George Bush edged out Al Gore among married women. Unmarried women preferred Gore by 30 percentage points.

Beyond momentary partisan advantage, the country would be stronger if more unmarried women were full participants in the political process. Census Bureau figures show married-couple households have fallen from 80 percent in the 1950s to 50.7 percent today.

As more American adults live outside the traditional family structure, politicians must figure out how to speak to the needs of a growing nation of voters who are single.

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