Margie Omero | November 27, 2007
Topics: 2008 , The 2008 Race
[Today's Guest Pollster's column comes from Margie Omero, President of Momentum Analysis, a Democratic polling firm based in Washington, DC.]
It's almost official. Single women are poised to be the "Security Mom" or "Soccer Mom" of the 2008 election. They even have their own easy to remember moniker: the "Single Anxious Female." At first blush, it seems like a good thing for women. A woman top-tier candidate, a focus on women's issues and women's voters - it must be a good thing, right?
Actually, much of what you read about single women and voting is not borne out by the data. There is indeed a "Marriage Gap" among women. Married people vote at a higher rate than non-married people. But the marriage gap is actually larger among men. According to Census reports from the 2004 election, married men are as likely to vote (63% turnout) as married women (65%). But unmarried men (which includes single, divorced, separated, and widowed) are substantially less likely to vote (46%) than unmarried women (55%). The marriage gap is 10 points among women, and is nearly twice that (18 points) among men.
If you look specifically at single, never-married adults, this pattern holds. A majority of single women voted in 2004 (52%), compared to fewer single men (43%). This is even true with 18 to 24 year-olds (47% of single women in that group vote, compared to 40% of single men). The table below shows the turnout rate by gender and marital status. [Note: at the time of this post, the Census table contained an error, in that Row 88 (widowed men 18-24) should be blank, and all data currently in Rows 88-91 should be moved down one row. The error was corrected by email from the Census, but has not yet been updated on the site.]
You would never know about women's higher turnout by examining the press coverage. A CNN piece this month called single women, particularly younger single women, "notoriously difficult to get to the polling booth." An entire organization is devoted to closing the marriage gap among women . And women's advocates hypothesize about why single women don't turn out, making their own gender-based assumptions about women not recognizing their power.
More disturbingly, however, is what this focus on single women has wrought. Dubbed "Single Anxious Female," that cringe-inducing name has stuck, and has generated a sizable amount of press devoted to the caricature of the single woman. This group has become defined not by political views, but by their lack of gravitas. Several have called them the "Sex in the City voter". Feminist icon Naomi Wolf says they are more like Melanie Griffith in "Working Girl," as compared to Hillary's Sigourney Weaver. The CNN piece said this group is "more interested in showing off than in true political activism" and cited others who called single women "slutty" or "stupid." Advocacy has begotten dismissiveness.
Now, encouraging non-voters to vote is obviously important, and the point here is not to object to women-specific voting programs. And certainly campaigns should continue to reach out to women. But we need to change tactics. First, let's use the data correctly. Women vote at a higher rate than men. Unmarried women, however defined, vote at a higher rate than unmarried men. And this pattern holds across age groups. Second, it does not further the cause to allow women to be called anxious, show-offs, bubbly, stupid, or confused. These characterizations only perpetuate stereotypes about women, rather than work to improve our status.