The latest on what we’re doing and what we’re paying attention to.
By Page Gardner, President, Voter Participation Center
Jan. 2, 2019
This week, the 116th Congress will convene with a lot of firsts for the 229-year-old institution: The House will have the first Native American congresswomen; the youngest women ever elected to Congress; the first Muslim women in Congress; the largest number of freshmen women of color, and many more. They need to pay attention to the people who brought them here – the new majority of American voters – unmarried women, people of color and young people.
Many people already know turnout records for the 2018 midterm elections were broken when an estimated 118 million people headed to the polls to vote. But what many don’t recognize how powerful an influence the Rising American Electorate (RAE) had on the composition of the electorate or the outcomes of key races. The RAE is the largest block of eligible voters and comprised of unmarried women, people of color and young people, making up 62% of the voting eligible population. This vital demographic has been growing and as they’ve expressed themselves at the polls, creating the margin of difference in races across the country. Yet somehow, they remain overlooked.
The midterm gains by Democrats were razor thin in many states and those victories should be attributed to turnout among the RAE. Numbers show voters under 30, who turned out at historic rates, supported Democrats by a 31-point margin over Republicans, helping them flip the House, elect a record number of women to Congress, and propel nine female gubernatorial candidates to victory. Unmarried women, who made up 23% of the electorate, voted overwhelmingly Democratic at 66%, and 76% of non-white voters went blue in the 2018 midterms.
Notably, unmarried women asserted their unhappiness with the direction of the country by voting out Republicans, especially in the Rust Belt where Democrats made big gains. The huge marriage gap (the difference between how married and unmarried women vote) was present in many key battleground state races. In the Wisconsin Governor’s race, 67% of unmarried women voted for Democrats versus 47% of married women. In Nevada’s Senate race, 66% of unmarried women voted Democratic versus 53% of married women. Associated Press exit poll data shows congressional election outcomes would have looked very different as 33 of the 40 seats that Democrats won in 2018 would have been Republican victories if unmarried women voted like married women. Politicians and pundits placed an inflated emphasis on white, suburban women as a the pathway that led to victory in the 2018 midterm elections.
Older and white voters still have the power to swing elections and yet, there are other forces at play in the electorate now that cannot be ignored or downplayed. Demographics are not destiny, but there are patterns that show the growing influence of the RAE. It’s time for policymakers recognize the growing majority of young, increasingly single, racially diverse, and economically diverse voters. Their voices need to be heard and reflected in the next Congress.
Moving forward, people of color, young people and unmarried women will continue to change the political landscape and will have even more voting power in the next presidential race. Last time around, unmarried women voted for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump by 63 percent to 32 percent, while married women voted for Clinton by only 49 percent to 47 percent. If the candidates for president truly want to win, their strategists must engage these groups with collectively with an agenda and message that reflects their lives. An agenda that is supported by most Americans as well.
In fact, even some Republicans and political analysts are sounding the alarm on the need to change the way the party does business. If things don’t change, Republicans will continue to lose millions of voters as the Democrats further expand their base.
The Rising American Electorate want the new Congress to focus on protecting healthcare, ending corruption, safeguarding American institutions and the rule of law, investing in education, and addressing growing income inequality. If we are to truly have a representative democracy, our newly elected officials will make sure the RAE’s concerns are listened to and acted upon.