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Democrats and Single Women

A bright spot for the Democrats in the 2004 election was their performance among single women. That fact has been noted here and there by observers (including John Judis and myself in our recent American Prospect article) but a just-released report by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner for Women's Voices/Women Vote documents this trend in much more detail than anyone else has. Among the key findings of the report:

In a year with high turnout, unmarried women increased their numbers, and were one of the few demographic groups to increase their share of the electorate. As a percentage of the electorate, they moved from 19 percent in 2000 to 22.4 percent in 2004, an increase of roughly 7 million votes. Unmarried women constituted as large a share of the electorate as African Americans, Latinos and Jews combined.

The marriage gap is one of the most important cleavages in electoral politics. Unmarried women voted for Kerry by a 25-point margin (62 to 37 percent), while married women voted for President Bush by an 11-point margin (55 percent to 44 percent). Indeed, the 25-point margin Kerry posted among unmarried women represented one of the high water marks for the Senator among all demographic groups.

The marriage gap is a defining dynamic in todayís politics, eclipsing the gender gap, with marital status a significant predictor of the vote, independent of the effects of age, race, income, education or gender. Marital status had a significant effect on the way in which these voters performed, whereas a voterís gender did not. This was true of all age groups. Younger unmarried women supported Kerry while younger married women supported President Bush. Unmarried 18-29 year olds gave Kerry a 25 point margin, while younger married women, like their older counterparts, gave President Bush an 11 point margin.

The 2004 election brought many new unmarried women to the polls. Nineteen percent were voting for the first time, versus only 6 percent of married women....

White voters supported President Bush overall, but Kerry performed well among white unmarried women. White voters generally supported President Bush in the election (58 percent to 41 percent), but Kerry performed strongly among white unmarried women (55 percent to 44 percent).

Unmarried women are social and economic progressives advancing a tolerant set of values. They believe government should play a role in providing affordable health care, a secure retirement, equal pay, and education opportunities for themselves and their children. They support a womanís right to choose and gay rights, including marriage.

Unmarried women were strongly opposed to the war in Iraq. They believe that the Bush Administrationís pursuit of the war made America less safe, not more secure. This is the opposite conclusion from that drawn by many blue-collar voters.

Clearly single women are a very good and growing constituency for the Democrats. The report does not, however, address how to appeal directly to this constituency without aggravating the Democrats' already existing problems among married women voters. That would be a useful subject for debate among Democrats because this report demonstrates that single women voters could a critically important source of Democratic votes in the future. If that source can be further tapped without worsening Democratic performance among married women--or ideally improving that performance--the Democrats could have a winning formula.