It’s The Single Ladies, Stupid

by | February 29, 2016 | Gender Discrimination, Harassment, Working for Justice Blog

According to Rebecca Traister’s cover story for the February 22, 2016 issue of New York Magazine, single women will have a “profound effect” on this year’s general presidential election.  As a single woman, why was I not more keenly aware of this?

Perhaps it is because most of the news coverage regarding presidential and mid-term politics in the last four years has led me and others to believe that racial minorities (namely, Latinos) and millennials are the key demographics whose turnout on Election Day will determine whether a Democrat or a Republican will occupy the White House come January 2017.  A recent post on the award-winning polling aggregation website, FiveThirtyEight, titled “How Demographics Will Shape the 2016 Election” focuses on racial minorities and college educated versus non-college educated whites as the groups that are most likely to determine the outcome of the election. The article does not include a single instance of the word “woman,” “women,” or “female.”  Given that in 2012, single women comprised almost a quarter of the electorate and are anticipated to make up a majority of women voters this year, shouldn’t Nate Silver know better?

To be clear, I am not suggesting that candidates and strategists have made no attempts at all to court female voters.  (Recall “The Life of Julia” interactive web ad for President Obama in 2012, and who can forget Mitt Romney’s BinderGate that same year?)  The main problem, as I see it, is the inability of politicians, strategists, and pundits alike to understand and address the fact that unmarried women are not a neat and tidy slice of the electorate.  Rather, the dramatically increasing number of single women in this country transcends race and socioeconomic boundaries.  According to a 2012 study, single women made up “almost 40 percent of the African-American population, close to 30 percent of the Latino population, and about a third of all young voters.”  To acknowledge the growing proportion of young and non-white voters in this country without pointing out that unmarried women comprise a large cross-section of these groups seems rather short-sighted, to say the least.

And although unmarried women are diverse in terms of socioeconomic status and race (to be sure, a significant portion of unmarried women in the U.S. are college-educated white women), they lean strongly to the left. Traister posits that the ratcheting to the left of democratic policies is attributable by and large to the influx of single women in this country, and therefore, not the growing percentage of the population consisting of racial and ethnic minorities.

With all the focus these days on Donald Trump’s stratospheric rise to the top in the Republican primaries and his rock star status among the Republican base, despite his well-solidified reputation as a misogynist, it will be rather interesting to see how the record number of single women in the electorate will impact the outcome of the general election.  This is assuming, of course, that despite the demands of career and single motherhood, a substantially large portion of these women turn out to vote on November 8.  If and when they do, hopefully the pundits will give credit where credit is due.