Single and Ready to Mingle With the GOP

The GOP can help close the gender gap by wooing young, single women.

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It's been well-documented that the gender gap in the 2012 presidential election was big—CNN reported women backed Obama by 55 percent, Romney 44 percent—and this was the fifth straight presidential election that Democrats enjoyed a double-digit lead among women voters. When you add up the difference between the men's and women's votes, there was an 18-point gender gap and a 41-point "marriage gap" between the candidates as well. According to Karlyn Bowman of the American Enterprise Institute, unmarried voters tend to vote Democratic, married ones tend to vote Republican. Those unmarried women present a huge opportunity for the Republican Party.

The proportion of unmarried women is growing. "Unmarried" can mean never married, widowed, or divorced, but the majority of unmarried women are single and young. Ruy Teixeira of the Center for American Progress estimates that unmarried women now represent 47 percent of all American women; in 1970, only 38 percent were unmarried. Demographer Wendell Cox found that, in 2008, states with the highest percentage of childless women under 45 tended to vote Democratic.

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But Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg told the Daily Beast, just before the election, that unmarried women are not particularly partisan: "They're for Obama, it's not a whim, but it's not party identification … If you're looking for people who call themselves Democrats, it's not them." Greenberg went on to say that unmarried women felt their issues were ignored by Obama, especially in the debates, and that hurt him. There's a lesson there: If Republicans want to win more elections at both the state and national level, then they need to start addressing the concerns of young, single women.

Take the economy. Mitt Romney picked up support for women after his first debate when he framed economic growth as a women's issue. Polls consistently show that women rank concern for the economy and jobs above other issues by wide margins. Women especially are concerned about leaving a fiscal mess for the next generation. Put in that context, Republicans have a good message when it comes to reining in government spending, bringing Medicare and Medicaid back to sustainability, and reducing the federal deficit.

But instead of only addressing working families, Republicans should target their economic message to single women—specifically, young working women who are trying to make ends meet. Many of them are concerned about getting their first job in a tough economy. Once they're hired, they're understandably worried about their job security. They're burdened by the double-whammy of student debt and higher taxes; they're troubled by rising prices taking a bite out of the money they're trying to save. There's an opening for a fiscally responsible, pro-growth, opportunity-oriented message aimed at young, working female voters. Many of these women will end up starting their own businesses and, at least in theory, should be Republican voters.

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Bowman also notes that while polls show—and the "Julia" video from the Obama campaign reinforced—that women are more likely to favor an activist government with a guarantee of healthcare and social services, women are more risk-averse than men. Many young women may think putting their retirement savings, for example, in a private investment account tied to the stock market is "risky" compared to Social Security—but Republicans should make clear that entrusting one's retirement to a wasteful, inefficient government that is going bankrupt is actually one of the most dangerous financial decisions a woman can make.

There's an opportunity for Republicans, too, when it comes to young women and protecting the rights of gun owners. While Democrats like to point out the large gender gap that exists on the question of gun control—women are more supportive of gun control than men—they forget that not everyone who owns a gun looks like Dick Cheney. According to CBS News, the total number of female gun owners nationally has doubled over the last decade. (In fact, there's a "huge demand" for pink guns, according to Guns & Ammo magazine.) A 2010 story in the Washington Times cited a study that found 80 percent of female gun owners had purchased the guns for self-defense. While many women want universal background checks and mandatory gun safety training, not everyone agrees that all guns are evil. It's more complicated than the left thinks, and there's an opening for Republicans to take the side of women who want to defend themselves.