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U.S. Woman voting for the first time
Politics and Economy:
Women and the Vote
More on This Story:
Gender Gap?

They are this election season's hot commodity — everyone wants the single women voters. Replacing soccer moms and NASCAR dads, recent headlines tell the story. BUSINESSWEEK devoted a feature-length piece to the group in late summer: "Desperately Seeking Single Women Voters: Democrats are scrambling to mold a potent new bloc." After the second presidential debate, the SEATTLE TIMES proclaimed "Two single women voters give Bush debate edge." As the NOW segment "Reaching Out to Women" shows, groups on both sides of the political spectrum are attempting to get the single woman out to the polls.

Why? Well, the numbers tell the story. In 2000, there were 22 million unmarried women, 18 or older, who did not vote. Single women are an untapped pool for the parties. After all, 46% of all voting-age women are unmarried; out of all American women who are not registered to vote, 56% are single. According to Women's Voices, Women Vote, that's the largest group of non voters in America today. Ruth Mandel, senior scholar at the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University in New Jersey said in a recent interview, "Single women can swing an election." (Learn more about organizations dedicated to getting out the single woman's vote.)

The Marriage Gap

But in which direction? Many Americans are familiar with the term "gender gap" — defined as the difference between men and women in political attitudes and voting choices but that's only part of the equation. The concern over the potential of the single woman's voting bloc arises from both the gender gap and the "marriage gap." The marriage gap is the difference in voting choices between single and married Americans. An October 12, 2004 Gallup poll found that the gap was wide among potential voters in the 2004 presidential election. The marriage gap among women gives the advantage strongly to Democrat John Kerry, up to 38 percentage points in aggregated USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Polls.

Women's Issues and Gender Gap History

There has been a measurable difference in the voting patterns of men and women over the last twenty years. The gender gap has remained about 11 percent for the past three elections, favoring Bill Clinton and Al Gore over the Republican candidates. Some analysts will put the preference down to "personality," others to an elusive group of "women's issues." Those who study voting behavior over time — like the Center for American Women and Politics and the Center for Policy Alternatives — have come up with a loose grouping of women's priorities. Among the top issues for women over the last few decades are equal pay and benefits and flexibility to balance family and work. Along with health care and education, these have become the issues pulling at single women voters, voters who tend to feel more economically insecure than their married counterparts. (Find out more about gender pay equity around the world.)

Gender Gap in 2000      

In 2000 Democrat Al Gore beat Bush by 11 points among female voters — which was precisely Bush's margin over Gore among male voters.

The Center for American Women and Politics' study of gender gap issues also shows that women and men differ on a variety of today's election issues. Women are more likely to favor an activist role for government and are more supportive of public programs to guarantee health care and social services. Women are more supportive of firearms restrictions. Women are more supportive of affirmative action and other equality programs. Historically women are more often opposed to U.S. military intervention, however, since 9/11 security has emerged as top issue for American women.

Soccer Moms, Security Moms and the Undecided

In 1996 writer Jacob Weisberg took on the search for the "Holy Grail" of the uncommitted election bloc. In "Soccer Mom Nonsense: The making of this yearís election myth," Weisberg traced the term "soccer mom" in political use to Republican consultant Alex Castellanosís work for GOP candidates in 1995. Weisberg found that mothers were defined by writers and pundits as either "well-heeled super parents" or "financially stressed." The mystery to Weisberg was in how these soccer moms had so quickly replaced the power voting bloc who lead the GOP to victory in midterm elections in 1994, the "angry white male." Ultimately, he points out the pitfalls of using any of these labels warning that "they are usually clichés that obscure as much as they reveal."

But does all this mean that women, married or unmarried, will make a difference in the outcome of election 2004? A late September article in the SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE speculated that the descendants of Bill Clinton's soccer moms have turned into security moms firmly in the GOP camp. The CHICAGO TRIBUNE reported in an September 22, 2004 article entitled "Women appear to lose faith in Kerry," that "a spate of recent polls showed that female voters are backing [Kerry] by just a small margin." Both candidates may need women to win. Much may depend on the tough job of getting the single women out to vote. As America's overall voting record shows, an increasingly small percentage of the population is determining the presidency each and every year. The proof will be in the polls. (Find out more about who votes worldwide.)

The Gender Gap in American Voting
% of women and men voting

2000: George W. Bush  43% women / 53% men
2000: Al Gore  54% women / 42% men
1996: Bill Clinton  54% women / 43% men
1996: Bob Dole  38% women / 44% men
1992: Bill Clinton  45% women / 41% men
1992: George H.W. Bush  37% women / 38% men
1988: George H.W. Bush  50% women / 41% men
1988: Michael Dukakis  49% women / 41% men
1984: Ronald Reagan  56% women / 62% men
1984: Walter Mondale  44% women / 37% men
1980: Ronald Reagan  46% women / 54% men
1980: Jimmy Carter  45% women / 37% men
2000, % voting age pop. voting:  56,2% women / 53.1% men
1964, % voting age pop. voting:  67.0% women / 71.9% men
Source: Center for American Women in Politics, 2004

Sources: Center for American Women and Politics, Rutgers University; National Election Studies, University of Michigan; "Married? Single? Status affects how women vote," Susan Page, USA TODAY, August 25, 2004; "Desperately Seeking Single Women Voters," BUSINESSWEEK ONLINE, June 21, 2004; "Terror concerns move more women into Bush camp, GOP sees security as key 'mom' issue," Carla Marinucci, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE, September 22, 2004; "2 single women voters give Bush debate edge," Erik Lacitis, SEATTLE TIMES, October 1 2004; EXPLAINING TRENDS IN THE GENDER WAGE GAP, The Council of Economic Advisers, June 1998; THE BATTLE FOR 'SOCCER MOMS': Reassured Pa. women find strength in Kerry, NEWSDAY, Lawrence C. Levy, October 13, 2004; "Soccer Mom Nonsense: The making of this year's election myth," Jacob Weisberg,, October 12, 1996; Women's Voices 2000; Women's Voices, Women Vote; Marriage Gap Persists in 2004 Vote, October 12, 2004,Gallup Poll, "Women appear to lose faith in Kerry," Matea Gold, CHICAGO TRIBUNE, September 22, 2004.

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