With President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney neck-and-neck before Election Day, any group could make the difference. This year, women voters have been heavily courted by both candidates, and for good reason: as has historically been true, there are more female eligible voters than male, and the proportion of eligible women who will vote is expected to surpass men.
But how they will vote is far from certain.
While women aren't a monolithic voting bloc, polling data show that their vote is notably split along marital status, says Page Gardner, founder and president of the Women's Voices Women Vote Action Fund and the Voter Participation Center, both founded to mobilize single women for political participation.
An Investor's Business Daily/TIPP poll released this week shows that single women favor Obama 63 to 23 percent, while married women favor Romney 51 to 41 percent.
"Marital status is a big determinant, not just in whether you vote, but also your preference," says Gardner. "And that marriage gap has grown." The exception to this gap is older divorced and widowed women, who are categorized as single women, but do not necessarily favor Obama.
Gardner says that overwhelming support for Obama by young, single, female voters is driven in part by the Democrats' focus on women's health issues. "The healthcare issue is very important to women overall, but it is particularly resonant and important to single women on their own," says Gardner. "They are on a high wire act in terms of economics. These women go longer without seeking medical attention, or not filling prescriptions. This issue means a lot to them."
The Obama campaign has zeroed in on the group. A new ad released last week featured Lena Dunham, the young creator of HBO's hit series Girls, where she compared voting for the first time to losing her virginity. "Your first time shouldn't be with just anybody," she said.
The Romney campaign, meanwhile, has made a concerted effort to reach out to married women. Ann Romney notably concluded her speech at the Republican National Convention by going off-script to say: "I love you, women!" The comment was intended for the "moms who always have to work a little harder, to make everything right," she said.
But single women may be the better vote to court, at least in elections to come. The Voter Participation Center found that single women are the fastest growing large voting group in the country when it comes to sheer numbers: About 55 million unmarried women will be able to vote this election.