When Democrat Ralph Northam was elected as the Governor of Virginia, the election results highlighted a very powerful but as yet under-utilized political force: single women.
In cruising to a surprisingly easy victory Northam received an astounding 77 percent of the votes of unmarried women. And although these women make up 26 percent of the adult population, they comprised just 16 percent of the voters in the Virginia election.
Clearly one job for the Democratic Party is not only to adopt policies that appeal to single women but also to find a way to get them to vote in higher numbers.
A new report from the Voter Participation Center, a group that registers voters and studies voting habits, found that many unmarried women don’t vote or aren’t registered to vote. If they did, the report concludes, they could be a very powerful political force in this country.
During the 2016 election, two-thirds of unmarried women were registered to vote, but of this group, only 56% actually voted. And of that group, just 32% voted for Donald Trump for president. If more of them had voted, Hillary Clinton might have won.
This shows that if Democrats could increase the voter turnout rate among registered single women that would have a profound impact on election results, especially in close races.
According to the Voter Participation Center, single women must overcome many difficulties in both registering to vote and actually voting. As a group, unmarried women are more likely to live in poverty and earn the minimum wage. They have higher rates of unemployment and many have no savings. 40 percent of unmarried women are women of color, and about a third are under the age of 30.
“It’s not that easy in this country to register to vote,” said Voter Participation Center President Page Gardner. She explained that they try to register these groups through massive mail-in registration campaigns. They have registered about four million people since its inception in 2003, she said, 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.
Married women are less likely to see themselves on the same trajectory as single women, because they see their futures more closely linked to their husband’s. Most women still earn less than men, and researchers have concluded that “it is within married women’s interests to support policies and politicians who protect their husbands and improve their status.”
As a result, politicians may want to target policy proposals specifically to unmarried women. According to Gardner, “These politicians shouldn’t assume that married women will connect to other women based on a notion of shared womanhood.”
The Voter Participation Center’s report found that unmarried women are disproportionately affected by the divisive policies of the Trump administration. GOP tax and healthcare policies all favor the wealthy and harm many single women.
But the report also predicted that one-third of unmarried women who voted in the 2016 election may not vote in 2018, which could be a disaster for Democrats, especially in close races. Clearly some of the top priorities of the Democratic Party must be the economic and social issues that affect single women. But what is most important is that these women actually vote.
I am a lifelong Democrat with a passion for social justice and progressive issues. I have degrees in writing, economics and law from the University of Iowa.