Hey Pollsters, Leave My Ring Finger Alone

New America Media, Commentary, Eugenia Chien Posted: Jul 30, 2007

Editor's Note: Unmarried women are the new 'soccer moms', according to influential pollsters -- but can this diverse group of women be considered a voting block? Eugenia Chien is an editor at New America Media.

As a political reporter I am used to the many ways lobbyists try to find the next big group of swing voters at election time. But I was taken by surprise—then by a strange sensation of indignation—when a study came across my desk that announced unmarried women as the biggest swing votes in the next election.

Unmarried women make up a bigger electorate than African Americans and Latinos combined, according to a new report by Celinda Lake of Lake Research Partners, a key pollster and strategist for the Democratic Party. About 47 percent of American women live without a spouse; more than 18 million of them are not registered to vote. Tapping their potential could save the Democrats in 2008, the study suggests.

But what do unmarried women really have in common? Many unmarried women simply haven’t found the right kind of men. Thousands of single mothers are unmarried because the men in their lives refuse to commit. Unmarried women may be divorcees or widows. And let’s not forget lesbians who are unmarried because the law forbids their union.

Political strategists have always tried to lump groups together by race, ethnicity, or even by the fact that you’re a soccer mom. But unlike those groupings, being unmarried is a category that hardly creates a united political response. Unmarried women are unmarried in so many different ways. Looking around me, I realized that by Lake’s definition, I would have the same political response as the college intern in my office, my next-door neighbor who is widowed and retired, and maybe the meter maid who just gave me a parking ticket.

Lake’s charts and graphs show that unmarried women increased their support for Democrats in the last three presidential elections. In the 2006 House races, they were most likely to vote Democrat. Lake says unmarried women are “change-oriented” and “cynical about the government,” with all the right priorities to put Dems in the White House.

I struggled to imagine political ads and platforms targeted at unmarried women. Perhaps political consultants would think we need better retirement plans since we don’t have our husbands’ pensions to live on. Or perhaps they will be handing out buttons and stickers at speed dating functions or advertise on Match.com.

Lake offers little clarification to why so many unmarried women do not register to vote. And what about unmarried men? According to her study, the number of unregistered single women (18.5 million) is almost equal to that of unregistered single men (18.2 million). But perhaps because unmarried women are more likely to vote Democrat than unmarried men, the research dives head on into the possible behaviors of unmarried women.

Frustratingly, this study suggests that marriage is still considered an accomplishment for women and merely a side note for men. A man’s status and identity are not defined by marriage. Even in an election that might result in the first woman president, female voters are still identified by their marital status.

To me, still single at 30, my unmarried status is a tired label that I have tried to shrug despite my nagging relatives. Being the eldest granddaughter in my marriage-obsessed extended family means constant anxiety from my relatives about my spinsterhood. At every family function, my relatives whisper questions about my love life, not-so-casually mention statistics about fertility rates dropping with age, and give me unwanted advice on how to keep a man.

The popular consensus so far among my relatives is that I have not learned to use my feminine wiles to seduce a husband. So many men have come and go, they lamented (it’s not really that many), why doesn’t it ever work out?

For me, I just haven’t found someone with whom to share my life, someone with the same convictions and values—who also doesn’t mind sharing his Sunday New York Times with me over a lazy brunch. But why should that define me?

In my generation, educated, financially independent women can control most parts of our lives. We choose our professions, invest our own income and buy our own properties. We have the freedom to travel wherever we want. We can participate in most sports. We make our own decisions about our health care. And let’s not forget, we can vote. The only thing that we have no control over is who we love. For pollsters to take advantage of the one factor in my life that I have no control over seems incredibly careless.

My relatives already pay too much attention to the fact that I am not married. As if that is not enough, now a pollster is making that the only focus in the swing voter category. It reduces my whole life to one painful label. Coming across this study at my desk puts me right back at dreaded family reunions: I might have graduated from college, climbed up the corporate ladder, or finished my first 10K race, but all I am ever asked is, “Why aren’t you married?”

Political consultants would do better with a harder look at what women really care about. Reducing my existence to the bareness of my ring finger certainly would do nothing to gain my vote.

Related Articles:

Show Me a Good Marriage

Study on Black Single Moms Debunks Stereotypes

Young Women Hear Mixed Signals at Harvard and Beyond

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User Comments

Sarah on Aug 06, 2007 at 11:54:13 said:

I've done some academic work in this area, and, as I understand it, the difference is this: women, overall, have the tendency to change their voting habits from Democratic to Republican when getting married. Men shift the other direction, but not as dramatically. Thus single women are of academic and political interest.

For more on this, I really suggest looking at the website of Women's Voices, Women's Votes, a very interesting group working to get more single women to the polls. wvwv.org

MB on Aug 05, 2007 at 19:04:21 said:

I think that the concept that unmarried women (I'm one of them) could be a voting bloc doesn't have anything to do with why women aren't married, but rather with their economic situation. Women tend to earn less than men and be less economically secure than men. Unmarried women--whether never married or divorced or single moms--are more likely to be financially insecure than either single men or married women. Women's economic interest often change as they marry. Unmarried women might look to the Democrats to use the power of government to fight discrimination (let's remember that the Supreme Court just made it a lot harder to bring a pay discrimination lawsuit) and to expand various types of benefits (college aid, job training, health insurance, etc.) that might make them more secure. Perhaps if we single women can all work together for political change that makes the world better and more secure for unmarried women, then whether to marry or not may be a freer choice.

donna darko on Aug 05, 2007 at 13:54:21 said:

During the 2004 cycle, researchers (including Lake) determined this huge bloc does not vote is because American politics 1) does not engage them and treats them as irrelevant and because 2) single women and single moms are too busy to vote. Politicians have to care about this voting bloc to get them to vote.

Si on Jul 31, 2007 at 01:12:50 said:

i am SO with you on this Eugenia!

C. Eigen on Jul 30, 2007 at 18:15:46 said:

Of course there must be a nearly equal number of single men (duh!). One wonders if they are not a target group because, like their fathers, they lean or even fall to the right. As a single person, what I really marvel at is that neither party has realized that singles of all genders are a large voting block that could be courted with promises of reform of tax and economic laws that do not discriminate against them because of their marital status.

Mickey Shell on Jul 30, 2007 at 11:59:31 said:

Why should the end-all and be-all for a woman be to be placed in a situation where she is expected to serve some male? Marriage can be okay, or even very fine, for some people, but it can be a prison for others, especially women with children. Fortunately, the law has changed with the times so that divorce is no longer practically impossible for female victims of private abusers. However, there remains religion, which has abrogated to itself every important human event or condition. Thus, religion has the right to tell you how to live every facet of your life, and you are expected to refer to it before acting. What power! Which has always been the point. Which explains the extremely anti-Christ Vatican, with it power and pomposity. Imagine Christ approving of the gloriously attired His Eminence, the Pope, living in grandeur on the backs of millions. Until religion is understood to be merely modern mythology, politics will always be corrupted by what is so cynically called "faith." And until then, women will always be demeaned in some way; religions were concocted by men for their own "glory," comfort, and advantage. Women should never bow down to such nastiness. And words attached to them by that nastiness: unmarried woman, illegitimate child, bastard, single mother, et al., will go the way of how many angels can dance on a pin and explaining away these gods' anthropomorphism with such idiocies as ichor.

Harry Nagendra on Jul 30, 2007 at 10:37:28 said:

I say right on. Your right, and your relatives are wrong. In fact I would say they are unkindly, insensitively, and horribly wrong. There is no justification for what they do, even if culture explains it(explanations are not justifications).

Pardon my preaching. I hope I have not overstepped. But you are wonderful to resist such negative pressure (and good intentions of the relatives don't count).

You are awesome as you are.




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