Every presidential campaign season pollsters slice and dice their numbers to come up with a new class of voters destined to be key demographic deciders come Election Day—from the "soccer moms" of 2000, to the post-9/11 "security moms" and "Nascar dads" of 2004.
This year, according to national poll results released this morning, the country could witness the historic emergence of a new and powerful voting bloc: low-wage, change-seeking, concerned-about the country-but-still-hopeful unmarried women who lean strongly Democratic.
It's a mouthful, but bottom line, what the Democratic polling firm of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research says it found in its recent survey of American women was that unmarried women are not only the fastest growing voting demographic but are poised to become as important to the Democrats' ability to capture the presidency as white Evangelical Christians have been to Republicans.
"The road to the White House is paved with the votes of unmarried women," says Page Gardner, president of Women's Voices, Women Vote Action Fund, which sponsored the poll. These women, the pollsters say, represent the most profound demographic change in the nation, and the number of unmarried women who are turning out to vote is growing at two times the rate of married women of voting age.
Their survey found that unmarried women now represent 26 percent of the electorate, essentially pulling even with married women, and outstripping the potential voting influence of blacks and Hispanics combined, Gardner says. And that's good news for Democrats—66 percent of the unmarried women surveyed said they planned to mark their ballots for a Democrat on Election Day. That's 13 points more than married women who said they'll vote for a Democrat.
(The poll showed that Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton does "somewhat better" than rival Barack Obama, but pollster Stan Greenberg declined to talk about hard numbers. "It's not our goal to produce results that have primary consequences," he says.)
The poll showed that married and unmarried women were united on a number of issues. Seventy-seven percent believe the country is on the wrong track; and more than three quarters of both groups said they want to "make sure every American has healthcare insurance." A majority of all women surveyed also said that candidates of both parties have failed to address their top concern of economic security. They are feeling the financial squeeze, Greenberg says, and are "overwhelmingly focused on cost—cost, cost, cost."
So who are these politically engaged unmarried women who should, Stan Greenberg says, be given as much attention as white Evangelicals? They are more racially diverse than their married counterparts, says pollster Anna Greenberg, but are still 61 percent white. They skew younger and older. Fifty-five percent live alone, 19 percent have children under the age of 18, and half have household incomes of less than $30,000. (Just 15 percent of married women fall into that category.)
Their numbers are growing, Anna Greenberg says, in part because of the changing role of women in society, the number of women delaying marriage, and the effects of immigration and the higher birth rates within the Hispanic immigrant community.
Page says that her organization's goal is to sign up 1.3 million new unmarried women voters, and it is working on get-out-the-vote efforts, including encouraging voting by mail in states where it's allowed. But to woo this demographic, she says, candidates will have to better address women's concerns about pay equity and family-friendly workplace policies, education, and savings opportunities, and take on big issues including healthcare coverage.
Unmarried women voters are in a "fairly extraordinary position," Stan Greenberg says. "There is a fundamental divide" among potential married and unmarried women voters, he says, "and there will be nothing more important than understanding this gap."