Earlier this month, 15 congresswomen – and one congressman – set out on a bus tour to with one specific mission: to remind the voting public of their power. The five day tour traveled from New England to the Midwest. They spoke to all that joined them, but their focus was squarely on the voters most concerned with minimum wage, unemployment, schools, and paid time off for families.
In other words, they were focused squarely on women.
Statistics show that an increase in women representatives shows a greater focus on policies that affect everyone. Inevitably, “women” issues such as reproductive rights and child care are put to the forefront when more women are elected. However, more legislation is introduced regarding economic policy, education, civil rights and the environment when women have a larger presence. There is also a substantial improvement in economic performance in countries where women hold key national leadership positions.
The number of women in local, state and national government in the U.S. is at an all time high. While impressive, we are still far behind other countries that have a much higher representation of women. Even though more organizations are focused on increasing the number of women in office, the barriers to get there are daunting. The financial costs for campaigning deter many women due to fewer avenues for funding. There are also the structural issue of electoral politics that limit how and which candidates get elected, or even get on the ballot.
However, the greatest power the majority of women have is their vote.
The Democratic contingent of congresswomen and one congressman weren’t spreading the message that women should vote for women (though they did highlight how it would make a difference). They wanted them to understand the importance of voting, especially in the upcoming midterm elections. Women, particularly unmarried women and working moms, aren’t just a statistic – they are a viable and powerful demographic.
The Voter Participation Center (VPC) is a nonpartisan research organization dedicated to amplifying the voices of unmarried women (this includes divorced, widowed, separated, and single). There are 55 million voting eligible unmarried women in the United States, representing more than 25 percent of the voting population. However, they have consistently been underrepresented in elections. Married women are virtually equal in eligible voting population at nearly 57 million, but vote at a higher rate than unmarried women. In the 2012 election, nearly 6 percent more married women voted in the election than unmarried, even though they only outnumber them by a little over one percent of the electorate.
President Barack Obama won by 3 percent.
The reasons that nearly a third of unmarried women are not registered to vote, and those that are don’t vote, have a lot to do with the policies that affect them. The wage gap in the industries that many women work, especially younger women, makes it difficult to find affordable housing, which can result in frequent changes in address. This is made more difficult for women with children – both married and not. The high cost of day care makes it difficult to find work that can cover all costs, not to mention the lack of paid time off for family and sick leave further strains the needed stability.
It is no surprise that these women are most vulnerable to voter ID and registration requirements which require large windows for registration. Strict guidelines for name changes also make it more cumbersome for recently divorced or recently married women to have their IDs accepted at the polling booth.
The voting patterns for single and married women have less to do with party affiliation and more to do with the issues they have to face. This is why women with children, many of them married, were also the target for the Democrats’ message of the importance of voting in the midterm elections. They share many of the needs that single women carry. The Democratic party has put forth a great deal of legislation that has focused on equal pay, paid family and medical leave, expanding affordable childcare, expanding funding for Head Start programs, and raising the minimum wage.
These are all policies that have been repeatedly blocked by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
The VPC report released earlier this month shows that unmarried women have had the largest increase in new eligible voters since the 2012 election with more than ten million new voters. Many of them are young and tend to not participate in large numbers in midterm elections. In 2012, if unmarried women voted in the same numbers as married women, the difference would have been an additional 6.5 million more votes cast.
President Barack Obama won by a little over 1 million votes.
Many are predicting it is unlikely Democrats can gain control of the House this year. Even though Democrats won the popular vote in 2012, gerrymandering has made many more Republican seats safer. However, the VPC report notes that unmarried women are increasing their registration numbers at a record rate and are the most motivated of what they call the “Rising American Electorate,” which includes women as well as people of color. They have the power.
The decision of these women to vote — or not — will make all the difference in November.