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Unmarried women are less likely than their married counterparts to register and to vote but they could be a key Democratic voting bloc in November if candidates get moving to address their issues.
A new report from the Washington-based Voter Participation Center, an organization that registers voters and studies voting habits, finds that unmarried women could be a powerful political force, but many don’t vote or aren’t registered to vote. Yet single women make up half of all women and 26 percent of the adult population.
One of the report’s key findings hinges on the “marriage gap”—the difference between how married and unmarried women vote: Marital status plays more of a role in voting behavior than the gender gap, the difference between how men and women vote.
During the 2016 election, about two-thirds of unmarried women were registered to vote, but only 57 percent of those women actually voted. But of those single women who did vote, just 32 percent voted for Donald Trump. (Clinton won married women voters of all races only by a slim majority: 49 percent versus 47 percent.)
While unmarried women are not a homogenous voting bloc, they do share some common characteristics, the center found. Unmarried women are more likely to live in poverty; earn the minimum wage; have higher rates of unemployment; and have fewer savings. Half of unmarried women earn less than $50,000 annually. About 40 percent of unmarried women are women of color, and about a third are under the age of 30.
There are significant obstacles to registration and voting for this cohort, ranging from onerous voter registration requirements (especially for women of color) to inaccessible polling places and frequent address changes (it’s difficult to remain registered if one is moving from state to state). Poverty and job insecurity are also likely culprits, which not only make it difficult to get transportation to far-off polling places or to vote within specified hours, but also affect registration and voter engagement.
To address these issues, the Voter Participation Center specifically targets single women in their voter registration efforts. They also target members of what the center calls the “Rising American Electorate” that face obstacles to voter registration, like young people, communities of color, and other under-represented groups.
“It’s not that easy in this country to register to vote,” says Voter Participation Center President Page Gardner. She explains that her organization “bring[s] the registration process” to these groups through massive mail-in registration campaigns. The center has registered about four million people since its inception in 2003, and about one million of those new voters are unmarried women.
Gardner points out that the growing numbers of unmarried women are an unappreciated political force. “If candidates and policymakers don’t understand the importance of the marriage gap and marital status in the way they run their campaigns or as they think through public policies, it’s just malpractice,” she says.
Indeed, the Voter Participation Center’s report points out that unmarried women are disproportionately affected by the divisive policies that continue to come from the Trump administration, which frequently harm women in poverty and women of color. The GOP’s recent tax reform privileges the wealthy over the poor, and through repealing the individual mandate, threatens health-care access to millions, including large numbers of single women.
But the Voter Participation Center also discovered that about one-third of unmarried women who voted in the 2016 election may not vote in 2018. So, if progressive politicians want to shake up the Trumpian status quo in November, they should move boldly to prioritize the economic and social issues that affect single women.