Hey, Political Strategists! Those Millions of Women You Overlooked Are About to Take You to School. Again.
By Page Gardner, political consultant, and former founder and board chair, the Voter Participation Center
Lisa is an office assistant by day, and works retail on some weeknights and weekends. She needs to work these jobs at the height of the worst public health crisis in more than 100 years. Lisa is a single mother of two teens who gets a little help from family, even though they are similarly strapped in these hardest of times.
Lisa’s two children are bright, eager and full of potential. Once she returns home late at night, Lisa reviews the schoolwork they’ve completed at the kitchen table, by day, left to their own devices to navigate themselves through their class schedules via two-dimensional view screens.
Lisa is one of the lucky ones. She’s employed. With her help, her love and her attention, her kids are maintaining some semblance of their previous lives, despite the challenges of distance learning and all variety of COVID 19 precautions. They have a roof over their heads and food on their table. Many of her friends and neighbors aren’t faring so well. Some haven’t worked since March. Some face eviction when moratoriums are lifted. Some are going hungry. And some of her friends have kids who can’t attend their virtual classes due to inadequate access to the internet, or no available or affordable tablets and laptops.
Lisa puts her life on the line every time she heads off to work via public transportation to keep watch over her company’s barely functioning office, and every time she serves a customer in her second job. She knows she has no choice. If one piece of the complex, delicate life structure she has crafted for herself shifts or falls, the whole, brittle edifice of her daily existence could shatter, and those who depend on her most would stand to suffer all the more.
So who, exactly, is this Lisa?
She is one unmarried woman, among many unmarried women who decide elections.
And what has this Lisa accomplished?
She is part of a key group of voters who, as of noon on the 20th of January, will have installed Joe Biden and Kamala Harris in the White House.
Need proof? Consider how strongly unmarried women contributed to the Biden-Harris victory margins in the last four states to be called as this year’s presidential portion of the General Election finally wound down. According to exit polling data carefully collated and analyzed by the National Opinion Research Center: in Arizona, unmarried women supported Biden by 15 percent over Trump and were one quarter of all votes cast. In Pennsylvania, unmarried women gave Biden an 18 point margin. In Nevada, it was a whopping 32 points. And in Georgia, it was an even more mind-blowing 37-point margin for Biden, with unmarried women casting nearly three out of every ten votes in the state. This story repeats in all of 2020’s key battleground states.
But there is more at stake than the declared Presidential race, because the 2020 General Election is still very far from over.
With two Senate runoffs set for next week, Georgia is the state that will help determine whether or not President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris will be able to successfully govern, as the 80 million+ who voted for them so fervently hope — much as the red-to-blue flip that occurred in the state propelled the top of the Democratic ticket to national victory.
It is perilous folly to assume that unmarried women as a voting bloc will not have enormous potential to exercise outsized influence on these Georgia Senate runoffs. this bloc of voters needs to get more attention. There is a demonstrable “marriage gap” in candidate preference between all women who are married, measured against the voting will of those who are single.
In Georgia in particular, unmarried women make up nearly 30 percent of the eligible voting population (29.2 percent, to be exact), according to information compiled in March through the U.S. Census Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement.
And this is why as candidates speak to voters, they must speak to Lisa. Because while in some ways similar, Lisa’s lifestyle is uniquely different from many of the married women she counts as acquaintances, friends or neighbors.
Lisa and her peers are diverse. They are white, black, Asian, native American and various blends of central and South American. But they all face, in starkly different ways, job insecurity, food insecurity, looming evictions in some instances, and children whose lives could fall through society’s cracks without notice, all while mom struggles to make ends meet.
What’s more — they have little prayer of being part of any economic “comeback,” such as it may be. Their $1200 stimulus checks were burned through in days. Their extra $600 or so per week in unemployment benefits? Long gone. The next round of $600 stimulus payments? This is not sufficient given the economic devastation they are suffering due to the pandemic and the economic devastation it has caused most Americans, except for the very very rich. And what about their family’s healthcare? If they do have healthcare? It’s under constant threat of attack by Republicans at the national and state level.
And, they never really recovered from earlier economic set-backs. Whatever modest safety net they may have once relied on was shredded a long time ago.
We have to study the consequence of all of this difficulty for our overall GDP.
Unmarried women are more numerous than married women, and their vast numbers comprise the backbone of our national economy. They are the key to the housing market, and to retail, and are an ever-growing class of newly minted professionals. But, they are disproportionately harmed by the inability of the outgoing administration to address Covid-19, the economic crises brought about by the pandemic, and the ensuing need for even the most basic humanitarian assistance.
America’s electorate and electoral consciousness is changing. My analysis of this change has evolved since I started the Voter Participation Center and the Center for Voter Information, formerly known as Women’s Voices Women Vote and the Women’s Voices Women Vote Action Fund, respectively. I’ve been saying for nearly 20 years that unmarried women are the top-point of the three-pointed star of the “Rising American Electorate,” along with under-35s and communities of color, however diverse.
These unmarried women choose elected officials and deliver states. They bring candidates across many finish lines.
So, political strategists, as we look at next weeks’ special elections in Georgia, as well as the looming 2022 battlegrounds, remember Lisa. She has real political agency, and is growing in importance, even though Lisa herself may not be fully aware of her sway. When she fills out a mail-in ballot at the same dining room table where her kids study, or when she enters a voting booth and shades a circle with a black pen, she is propelled by hope — hope that her one gesture as a citizen will, at some point, show measurable dividends in a better life for her kids.
When the act of voting is complete, she returns to her complicated web of duties, tasks and responsibilities and hopes some of those who are in government can help her and her family. America should not be the survival of the “fittest, “ it needs to be a democracy that recognizes the value of everyone in Georgia and the rest of the nation.
Lisa’s life is reflected in tens of thousands of similarly positioned women in the state of Georgia. All of whom have already started to cast votes in Georgia, just as they did in November, and the weeks prior. They have might liked to hear from you beforehand. Maybe you’ll think it wise to connect with them in 2022.