In early April 2012, Democratic political operative Hilary Rosen became a lightning rod when she stated that Ann Romney, the wife of Republican Presidential Nominee Mitt Romney had “never worked a day in her life.” The comment, which Rosen later apologized for making, has resulted in a reignited public debate over the “mommy wars.” More poignantly, it’s called attention to a very important fact in the 2012 election: women matter.
Women Voters in 2008
Sixty six percent of women voted in the 2008 Presidential election compared to sixty two percent of men. While President Obama only slightly led Senator John McCain among men (49% to 48%), he led among women by 56% to 43%, a 13 point difference. Based on the 2008 turnout figures, married women over the age of 50 are more likely to vote than younger women. However, unmarried women played a pivotal role in deciding the outcome of the 2008 Presidential election.
Married vs. Unmarried Women in the 2008 Election
Unmarried Women in 2008
According to the Voter Participation Center, President Obama would have lost the 2008 election without support from unmarried women. Despite the group’s propensity to not vote in comparison to married women, unmarried women comprise 26% of the voting population, with numbers of new registrants among this group only growing. Twenty percent of newly registered unmarried women voted for President Obama in 2008, while only 4% of married first time voters voted for the President. According to Women’s Voices, Women Vote, “Obama improved Democratic support among married voters, but marital status still drove the vote, to the degree that this election saw a record 44-point “marriage gap,” calculating the difference between how married and unmarried women voted.”
The Courtship – 2012
Democratic courtship of unmarried women, and Republican attempts to break the two up, were visible early in the Republican primary. Both conventions featured star studded lists of female speakers, such as the President of NARAL Pro-Choice America Nancy Kennan, equal pay activist Lilly Ledbetter and Caroline Kennedy at the DNC, and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina and New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez at the RNC.
A number of occurrences around “women’s issues” have also been used by both sides to target unmarried women. Hilary Rosen’s comments on Ann Romney’s work status; Todd Atkin’s comments on pregnancy from rape; and Rush Limbaugh’s name calling of Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown Law student, for testifying to a Senate Committee in support of health insurance coverage of birth control – all illustrate that point and show that THE chosen “women’s issue” of the candidates is reproductive rights. Certainly, reproductive rights and health is an important issue to all women no matter where someone stands on the political spectrum, but what else impacts the lives of unmarried and married women in the United States?
The wage gap, work/life balance, poverty, and household finances are just some of the issues impacting women each day. According to the U.S. Census Bureau 2011 figures, the median earnings of women who worked full time, year-round was 77 percent ($37,118) of that for men working full time, year-round ($48,202). Recently in her New York Times op-ed, “The Myth of Male Decline,” Stephanie Coontz reinforced that the wage gap is still very real. The gap of a women’s earnings to that of her husband’s too often becomes chasm once they have children, revealing a prejudice against working mothers. 31.2 percent of families with a female householder and 16.1 percent of families with a male householder lived in poverty. The poverty rate for men decreased from 14.0 percent to 13.6 percent, while the poverty rate for women was 16.3 percent from 2010 to 2011. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s report on Women in America: Indicators of Social and Economic Well-Being, women aged 25-34 are now more likely than men of that age group to have attained a college degree, reversing the norm of 40 years ago. Student loan debt in the U.S. reached over $1 trillion dollar, disproportionally impacting women who make up more than 50% of undergraduates nationwide. The Federal Reserve reports just 9 percent of 29-to-34-year-olds received a first-time mortgage from 2009 to 2011, compared to 17 percent in 2001.
Married, unmarried, low-income, middle class, or upper class – all women and the issues that impact them should matter, yet in this election the more likely voters (see chart below) and the issue of reproductive rights continue to dominate attention. How will this centerpiece yet polarizing issue impact the voter turnout of women? On November 6th we will see the result of these tactics. Unmarried women might once again turn out in droves or there could be a repeat of 2004 when 20 million unmarried women stayed away from the polls.