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Unmarried Women Voters

ab7371a39bfd7f846172.jpgWell this is good news — it looks like Hillary Clinton's campaign is going after unmarried, unregistered women voters:

"What we have seen everywhere is that women are giving Sen. Clinton anywhere from an 8- to 15-point gender gap advantage, and it's greater among younger women," said Maren Hesla, the Women Vote director at EMILY's List. "For her and for groups like EMILY's List to be able to target unregistered women — to get them registered and mobilized — only adds to her margins." EMILY's List, which backs female candidates who support abortion rights, has endorsed Clinton.

A recent national poll by Quinnipiac University, for example, shows Clinton leading the Democratic primary race with 32 percent. She leads Sen. Barack Obama by 14 points, former Vice President Al Gore by 18 points and former Sen. John Edwards by 20 points, thanks in large part to women voters.

In New Hampshire, the Clinton campaign has invited unregistered women to events with the senator. The campaign also is courting registered women voters, who outnumber male voters in the state by 5 percentage points.

Appealing to unregistered voters is one of the hardest tasks in politics, and it suggests the lengths Clinton is going to find untapped resources and capitalize on her status as a serious woman candidate.

Making the job more challenging, unregistered women tend to be younger, often move around a lot and may be at some economic disadvantage, making it harder for them to find the time to register and vote. But Page Gardner, president of Women's Voices, Women Vote, which tries to get single women involved in politics, said busy women voters could easily make the difference.

"What we have found is that at the end of the day, if you go to them and make it easier for them to register, they will," Gardner said. "If you talk about their lives, that's motivational. They're incredibly civic-minded. They care a lot about this country. They know they should register, they know they should vote."

Registering unmarried women voters is something that we've been pushing actively here for a long time.  In 2000, 22 million unmarried eligible women voters didn’t vote. That is a group that favored John Kerry 2-1 over George Bush.   According to polling done by Greenberg Quinlan Rossner following the 2004 election:

  • 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 woman’s right to choose and gay rights, including marriage.
  • Unmarried women were strongly opposed to the war in Iraq. They believe that the Bush Administration’s pursuit of the war made America less safe, not more
    secure. This is the opposite conclusion from that drawn by many blue-collar voters.
  • Unmarried voters, and unmarried women in particular, represent a source for enormous growth and support for those with a progressive agenda that speaks to the issues of importance to them.
  • Unmarried women held a set of progressive values that stood in clear contrast to those prompted by the Bush campaign. Instead of being swayed by the culture wars and issues such as abortion and gay marriage, unmarried women were polarized by them. They found President Bush’s cultural values to be another reason it was imperative to elect a different candidate to the highest office; they wanted a candidate who shared their priorities and views of America. While unmarried and married women alike voiced doubts about the Bush Administration’s policies in Iraq (36 and 31 percent, respectively) and the economy, such as the tax cuts to the wealthy (28 and 24 percent, respectively), unmarried women were more likely than married women to be concerned with President Bush’s stance on women’s rights, including abortion (20 percent versus 12 percent for married women).
  • Progressivism takes many forms — belief in an active role for government in economic policies, a multilateral worldview, and, attitudes toward social policies. As focus groups have shown, unmarried women cherish their rights as women, especially their right to choose. Unmarried women did not take kindly to the culture wars of 2004.
  • Like the economy and foreign policy, choice is another issue where unmarried women seek a more progressive agenda. Exit polls show that unmarried women were more likely than married women to support legalized abortion (60 percent versus 51 percent). Also, as previously noted, it was a hot button issue more likely to affect the vote of unmarried than of married women; 20 percent of all unmarried women cited women’s rights as a reason not to vote for President Bush, versus only 12 percent of all married women.

And how will this decision to court unmarried women mesh with Mark Penn's roll as chief Clinton pollster?  Penn is noted for his penchant for finding polling results that match opinions he is predisposed to.  In a DLC forum held shortly after the 2000 battle in Florida (helpfully entitled "Why Gore Lost and What's Next for the Democrats,") Penn concluded:

The DLC line on the election is that Al Gore ran too far to the left, associating himself with big government and class warfare rather than with the successful, centrist Clinton administration and the New Economy. Mark Penn, the DLC's pollster, put some flesh on those bones in his opening presentation.  According to Penn, Gore won on most specific issues. Three exceptions were guns, taxes, and abortion. Penn's finding on abortion is particularly useful because the networks stopped asking the most relevant question on the subject, viz., among voters for whom it was a top issue, which candidate won? Penn's poll showed that among the 7 percent of voters who cared deeply about abortion, George W. Bush took 61 percent of the votes and Gore 30 percent — pretty much keeping with the pattern of the previous two decades. (That makes for a net pick-up of 2.2 percentage points for Bush.) Penn thinks the issue helped Gore, however, among upper-class women, although the data he presented were not on point. (That data showed that women's support for abortion rose with income, but not how that support affected their votes.)

More important, though, was that Gore "lost on the broader meta-themes." Bush was seen as being to the left of his party — and so was Gore. On a scale in which 1 is the left pole and 9 the right, the average voter rated himself a 5.42 (slightly to the right of center). Gore was 1.5 points to the left of this average, Bush 1.06 to the right of it. Moreover, Gore's "people vs. the powerful" theme flopped badly among the voters who rallied to Bush in the last month. Gore's populist campaign hurt him among white males while merely matching Bill Clinton's performance among liberals. It also kept him from capitalizing on public contentment: Gore's margin among voters who thought the country was on the right track was 15 points lower than Clinton's in 1996.

Not surprisingly, Steve Rosenthal, political director of the AFL-CIO, disagreed with almost everything in Penn's analysis — including his premise. "I'm not convinced that Al Gore lost," he said, although he was willing to concede that Bush had taken the oath of office this weekend.

In other words — Gore lost because he was too populist, the only ones who care about abortion vote for Republicans and George Bush legitimately won the 2000 election.

I don't really know how these conclusions can focus a campaign that can speak to unmarried women.  Six years have passed in the interim and Penn's views may have changed, but given his role as a big union buster, one would imagine his progressive bona fides could use a little refinement.

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Jane Hamsher

Jane Hamsher

Jane is the founder of Her work has also appeared on the Huffington Post, Alternet and The American Prospect. She’s the author of the best selling book Killer Instinct and has produced such films Natural Born Killers and Permanent Midnight. She lives in Washington DC.
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