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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Dems Need Better than Usual Turnout of Unmarried Women in 2014

Page Gardner, president of the Women’s Voices Women Vote Action Fund, flags a serious problem for Democrats in her post, “Sinking American Electorate: Unmarried Women On The Edge” at The Campaign for America’s Future Blog. Noting that unmarried women are a key component of the ‘Rising American Electorate’ (RAE) that helped to elect and re-elect President Obama, Gardner explains:

Sadly, unmarried women and the RAE are becoming disengaged. Our research shows that their concerns are not being addressed by current economic policies. If left unaddressed, this disconnect could spell disaster for Democrats in 2014 and beyond. In 2012, it’s true, members of the RAE overwhelmingly supported President Obama. And as the Republican National Committee noted last month in its “autopsy” of the 2012 presidential campaign, the sheer number of these RAE voters is only expected to climb in coming years. “The minority groups that President Obama carried with 80 percent of the vote in 2012 are on track to become a majority of the nation’s population by 2050,” the RNC wrote.
But midterm elections traditionally attract very different voters than presidential races, and Democrats should prepare for what could be a drastic drop-off in voter support. In 2008, for example, unmarried women represented 21 percent of the total vote. But these same women fell to just 18 percent of the vote in 2010, a non-presidential year. And their support is crucial. For all the talk of the gender gap in American politics, the truth is that the marriage gap is even more profound. In 2012, unmarried women supported President Obama over former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney by 36 points, a massive margin that helped stem other losses. Even though President Obama lost the married-women vote by 7 points in 2012, he made up for it with his overwhelming support by unmarried women. The point: If unmarried women do not turn out in droves on November 4, 2014, Democrats could be in for a long evening.

Democrats can not afford to rely on the GOP’s miserable image with unmarried women, because 2014 is going to be all about turning out the RAE base and these voters must have something to vote for, in order to get them to the polls. Gardner urges Democrats to focus more intensely on concerns and priorities that energize this key demographic group:

So what should leaders of both parties focus on? Our research shows that the top priorities for all women are protecting retirement benefits, including Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Unmarried women care deeply about Medicare, investing in job training and making college more affordable. Other major priorities include helping women-owned businesses, expanding preventive health care for women, raising the minimum wage and making child care more affordable. And, importantly, unmarried women want equal pay for equal work. Today, an unmarried woman has to work more than 19 months to earn what a married man earns in just one year.

Any formula that leads to Democrats taking control of the U.S. House of Representatives, or even holding a majority in the U.S. Senate, must include an energetic appeal to unmarried women, rooted in the priorities Gardner cites. Without that, Dems will likely be defeated in the mid-terms.

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