National NOW Times >> Spring 2004 >> Article
Women's Votes Are Key to 2004 Elections
Did you know that in the last three presidential elections, the president was "elected" by approximately 25 percent of the eligible voting population? In the 2000 elections, nearly 100 million people, about half of the voters, stayed home.
This sorry state of affairs is a serious problem for everyone in the U.S., but it is simply devastating for those who support women's rights. This is because young women, women of color and unmarried women strongly support the women's rights message of economic justice, equality and reproductive rights and yet are significantly under-represented in both voter registration and getting to the polls.
The Youth Vote
Currently the U.S. has the most diverse generation of young voters ever — only 67 percent of them are white. Since 90 percent of African Americans and 67 percent of Latina/os voted for presidential candidate Al Gore in 2000, this diverse voting group becomes essential to any political calculation.
Unfortunately, only 32 percent of eligible voters under 30 voted in 2000, compared to 1972 (right before the Roe v. Wade decision legalized abortion) when 50% of voters under 30 turned out. Because of their low turnout, most political consultants have written off the under 30 crowd. These consultants minimize the importance of organizing on campuses and counsel their candidates to talk about issues that appeal to the older voters who show up at the polls in larger numbers — issues such as Medicare and Social Security. So it's no surprise that many younger voters feel alienated from politicians’ messages.
However, writing off this generation is a terrible mistake. All polling shows that these younger voters are the most socially liberal voting group. For instance, more than half of voters under 30 support same-sex marriage. Their parents, the baby boomers, only support same-sex marriage by 37 percent. The under 30 portion of the electorate is expected to constitute 7-8 percent of the vote in an election where a swing of just a few percentage points could decide the presidency.
Young women have much at stake in this election. They have never known a world before Roe and the escalating deficit will mortgage their future. We need to spread the word on these issues, especially reproductive rights and economic justice. It is clear that we cannot depend on politicians and their poll-tested messages to inspire these voters.
Unmarried Women and Women of Color
Unmarried women are the largest demographic group in the country that both under-registers and under-votes, compared to other voting groups. According to Women's Voices. Women’s Vote., 22 million unmarried women did not vote in the last election. Sixteen million unmarried women were eligible to vote in the 2000 elections, but did not register. If unmarried women had simply voted at the same rate as married women, there would have been more than 6 million additional votes cast in 2000. And from what we have learned about issues important to this demographic group, which has a deeply progressive world view, there is no doubt that if they vote at even a marginally increased rate, it will affect the outcome of many races.
Who are unmarried women? What do the retired widow in Florida, the lesbian couple in San Francisco, the divorced mom working in a factory in Ohio and the single young woman in college have in common?
Unmarried women, regardless of whether they are divorced, widowed or never married, suffer from the same inequities in pay and promotions as all women. However, because they usually live in a single income household, their economic situation is more marginal. Statistics show that more than half of unmarried women have family incomes of less than $30,000 a year, as compared to only one-third of the general population. The economic situation for unmarried women of color is even more precarious. Two out of three African American women are unmarried. One-third of these are single heads of families, with nearly 60 percent of them paid less than $25,000 a year. Another quarter of unmarried African American women are over 65 and a full 94 percent of them have incomes under $25,000 a year.
The situation is only slightly better for the unmarried Hispanic woman. Two out of five Hispanic women are unmarried. One out of five unmarried Hispanic women heads a single-parent family, and more than a third of those families live in poverty. One out of five Hispanic unmarried women is over 65 years of age, and 97 percent of these women live on less than $25,000 a year.
Because of the personal economic vulnerability of the majority of unmarried women, focus groups and polling have determined that unmarried women, as a group, hold similar views on issues of public policy that are vital to women's interests. They are vitally concerned about economic issues and security, health care and education. As a group they look to the government to be responsive to their personal and family needs. Most importantly, they are politically independent and progressive on issues.
New Campaigns: Project RENEW and 10 for Change
Two new programs will address the national problem of important populations that both under-register and under-vote.
RENEW (Register and Empower New Women) is NOW Foundation's state-focused voter registration and voter turnout campaign. The goal of this project is to register tens of thousands of unmarried women and then motivate and assist them where necessary in turning out to vote in the November elections.
Our method to reach these women is personal contact, first through door-to-door canvassing and tabling, followed by phone calls from volunteers.
We will stay in touch with our newly registered voters, keeping them informed of issues and making sure that no impediment, such as lack of childcare or transportation, keeps them from voting on Election Day.
10 for Change is our massive effort harnessing the energy of those who marched in Washington, D.C., on April 25 and expanding to reach everyone who wants to help.
NOW and the NOW Foundation gathered names at the March for Women's Lives, signing up participants for this new campaign. Through an interactive and fun online program, 10 for Change is helping people across the country learn how to register voters, become educated on the issues that affect women's lives, and make a political difference in their communities.
Visit www.10forchange.org and join us in this vital work. Help us make women voters a powerful force in this and every election.
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