Trend-conscious candidates beware: Do not get caught courting soccer moms or NASCAR dads. They're so over. This year's hot new swing voter is the single woman.
And with very good reason: Although single women account for one-fifth of the U.S. electorate, they historically turn out to vote in much smaller numbers than married women or, for that matter, married or single men.
The stats are simply stunning: According to Women's Voices, Women Vote, a nonpartisan organization dedicated to engaging unmarried women in the electoral process, 22 million unmarried women didn't vote in the last presidential election. If these single women had voted at the same rate as married women did, 6 million additional votes would have been cast. No small matter in a coin-toss election like 2000 was -- and like 2004 may be.
So while TV viewers are waving goodbye to the Sex and the City singles, Roz from Frasier, and Rachel from Friends, political strategists are ardently wooing their real-life counterparts.
Democrats should be making an especially heavy play for them, since research shows that single women tend to be more progressive than other voters. And what's more, they are seriously ticked off: Over two-thirds of them believe that the country is moving in the wrong direction and want real change.
Although it's impossible to pigeonhole a group as diverse as single women -- they're young and old, encompass all races and include divorced moms, widowed seniors and never-married Bridget Joneses -- there's a reason they tend to have the political opinions they do: The vast majority of them find themselves living on the economic edge, radicalized by the struggle to provide for themselves, their children and their older parents, mostly on one income.
These women aren't blinded by the latest "vibrant" GDP stats touted by the White House. They occupy the front lines of the Other America. They know what it means to have a child in a failing school. They live the reality of being forced to use an E.R. as the family doctor because they can't afford health insurance. They understand the feeling of being one paycheck away from poverty. To them, the Wal-Martization of our economy is not a theoretical concept.
The issues single women are most concerned with -- job security, affordable healthcare and decent educational opportunities for themselves and their children -- also skew heavily in the Democrats' favor. When you're barely making ends meet, another round of tax cuts for millionaires doesn't tend to be very high on your political must-have list. Neither is spending mega-billions fighting preemptive, ideological wars based on misleading premises -- especially when, more often than not, it's your loved ones coming home in body bags.
It can't be helping Karl Rove's sleeping habits to know that single women are also more likely to support gun control, gay rights and, especially, abortion rights. Talk about your potential culture war blowback.
And if that holy trinity of ugly GOP wedge issues doesn't turn out to be the final nail in the president's reelection coffin, this might: Unlike Bush, Grover Norquist and the high priests of the Leave Us Alone Coalition, single women don't see the U.S. government as the enemy. Indeed, for them government represents the last remaining strands of a desperately needed social safety net.
So if untold millions of single women voters are likely to reject Bush faster than they would a bucktoothed blind date with bad breath and a crummy car, why isn't the Kerry campaign busy drawing up the guest list for its Inaugural Ball?
Because the trick is getting these progressive-minded women to turn up at the polls.
As a group, single women feel particularly detached from the political process. They don't believe that politicians listen to them or care about their problems. Compared to the big money interests that dominate our politics, they feel powerless to effect real change. They are also turned off by the negative tone of modern campaigns.
If John Kerry is going to capture the hearts and votes of this crucial voting bloc, he's going to have to offer them more than sweet talk and the policy equivalent of a dozen roses.
Luckily for Kerry, what he needs to do to attract single women voters is exactly the same thing he needs to do to attract the rest of the electorate: Provide a bold moral vision of what America can be. A vision that brings hope and soul back to our politics and appeals to more than voters' narrow self-interests and unspoken prejudices.
Polls show that single women don't see themselves as tied to any political party. But they do see themselves as part of the larger American community, and are deeply concerned about the well-being of their neighbors and the nation as a whole. "This year, politicians of any stripe ignore these women at their peril," says Christina Desser, co-director of Women's Voices.
Single women are fed up and desperately want change. Now it's up to John Kerry to empower these Girls Gone Riled and convince them to kick George Bush to the curb.
Arianna Huffington is a nationally syndicated columnist and cohost of the National Public Radio program Left, Right, and Center.
Publication date: 04/15/04