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Single, Working and Highly-Educated Women and the Progressive Coalition

by Ruy Teixeira

As part of my ongoing series on the components or building blocks of the progressive coalition, I offer the following assessment of where progressives stand with single, working and highly-educated women voters.

As is well-known, progressives typically do better among women than men. But women voters are a vast group and the true areas of strength for progressives are among three subgroups: single, working and highly-educated women. In the 2004 election, Kerry carried single women by 62-37, college-educated women by 54-45 (including 60-38 among those with a postgraduate education) and working women by 51-48.

All of these margins, however, were smaller than they were in 2000, particularly in the case of working women, where Kerry’s margin among working women was no better than his margin among women as a whole. This was primarily attributable to his poor performance among married working women, part of the Democrats’ general problem with married women voters in that election. Single working women, however, remained a very strong progressive constituency, with Democrats dominating by a 65-35 margin.

While the balance of women relative to men is changing little, of course, trends within the female population are quite favorable to progressives. Single women are now almost half–46 percent–of adult women, up from 38 percent in 1970. Single, working women–as we’ve seen, an unusually strong and reliable progressive constituency--have grown from 19 percent of the adult, female population in 1970 to 29 percent today. And college-educated women have grown from just 8 percent of the 25-and-older, female population in 1970 to 24 percent today.

Clearly, these groups of women will be a critical part of a progressive majority coalition; equally clearly, the weakest link here are married working women who performed so poorly for the Democrats in 2004. The reasons are probably similar to those that held down Democratic margins among Hispanics (see last week’s analysis of the minority vote): national security and moral concerns that moved many of these women toward the GOP more than economic, health care and education concerns moved them toward the Democrats. In fact, among many of these women it apparently wasn’t much of a contest: among married working women, 54 percent said they trusted Bush to handle the economy, compared to 40 percent who said they trusted Kerry. And on handling terrorism, 63 percent said they trusted Bush, compared to 37 percent who said they trusted Kerry. No wonder the Democrats had such difficulty with this group.