By Elizabeth Fulk - 10/20/04 12:00 AM EDT
|Four years ago, Jen Tuttle was like any college coed. She liked drinking beer and partying.|
The single, 5-foot-5-inch brunette, a political science and history major at the University of Buffalo, had registered to vote in the presidential election. But in the end, she decided, what’s the point?
|“It was my freshman year, and 9-11 had not yet happened,” she said. “My family is a bunch of far-right, pro-life Republicans, and they disagree with my political views. [At the time] I thought, well, Bush is going to win anyway, so voting this year won’t really accomplish or change anything.”|
But when an internship opportunity — working for Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) in Washington — came her way in the spring of her senior year, Tuttle’s political disengagement became a thing of the past. Now, Tuttle works as the field director for Colorado state Senate candidate Jay Fetcher (D), and she plans to vote for Sen. John Kerry in the presidential election.
Candidates across the country hope that newfound political activism such as Tuttle’s will catch on among unmarried female voters this year. Single women like Tuttle make up the largest segment of nonparticipating eligible voters, so they have the potential to turn the presidential race.
“This is a bloc that could sway the entire election this year,” said professor Sharon Robinson, dean of Russell Sage College, a women’s college in Troy, N.Y.
But these young women haven’t always taken advantage of their political prowess.
Termed the “Sex and the City” voter, the group is made up of unmarried, divorced and widowed women who, for a variety of reasons, are not politically engaged.
So now they are being persuaded, with a host of girly activities — everything from bikini waxes and pedicures to pilates and yoga classes, as well as opportunities to meet young single men at bars.
Tuttle said she always liked studying political science but didn’t really understand what people in office could do or how they could affect her life until she began working for a politician. “It was always so vague and abstract to me,” she said.
Aside from the expected pitches from political candidates and numerous political action committees nationwide, a slew of celebrities, models and members of the fashion industry are making a pitch to appeal to the 22 million registered unmarried women who did not vote in the last election.
Actress Jennifer Aniston has appeared in recent public-service announcements encouraging unmarried women to get out and vote this year. Pop star Christina Aguilera is the subject of a Times Square billboard that reads, “Only You Can Silence Yourself,” in which her mouth is sewn shut. The ad is sponsored by the nonpartisan voting effort Declare Yourself. Sarah Jessica Parker, the “Sex and the City” star, has campaigned for Kerry.
In recent elections, a gender gap appeared between men and women. In 2000, women favored Al Gore over George W. Bush, 54-43 percent. This year, however, the gap appears smaller between male and female voters than between married and unmarried women.
The results of a Russell Sage/Zogby International poll of 1,001 registered female voters highlighted the significance of this “marriage gap.” The poll, conducted in September, showed single women favoring Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry over Bush 66-34 percent while married women favored Bush over Kerry 52-41 percent. Married women whose husbands handled the bulk of the finances favored Bush over Kerry 73-23 percent.
Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas) said she saw a change in women’s attitudes after the Russian school siege in Beslan in September. “Women thought that could happen here in the U.S., and they started caring more about the war,” Granger said.
But what to make of this hidden treasure of a voting bloc?
“Traditionally, it’s been perceived that this colossal, undiscovered demographic has been courted by Madison Avenue but not Pennsylvania Avenue,” said Rep. Deborah Pryce (R-Ohio). “This leads to feelings of apathy and frustration on behalf of single-women voters when it comes to the political process.”
Unmarried women tend to be more cynical about politicians, said Anna Greenberg, vice president of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, a D.C.-based Democratic polling firm. “These women think these candidates won’t do anything to change their lives and, once elected, they won’t do what they said they were going to do,” she said.
One female staffer on Capitol Hill listed time constraints as a major reason that single women fail to vote. “For many of these women, Election Day creeps up and it’s a question of their availability to register to vote, request an absentee ballot or just get to the polls,” she said.
Pat Carpenter is president of the WISH List, a political action committee dedicated to getting Republican women who support abortion rights elected to Congress. This year, the WISH List is throwing its weight behind candidates including Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Reps. Mary Bono (Calif.), Pryce and Granger.
Carpenter agreed that time is a factor, saying, “These women feel they have no time to study the candidates and where they stand on the issues. ... They fear making the wrong decision.”
Karen Kincer, political director for the Credit Union National Association (CUNA), explained, referring to single mothers, “When one child has a doctor’s appointment and another has ballet, it’s tougher to do these things.”
As a result, organizations such as hers are making it easier on the CUNA website, where one can register to vote, request an absentee ballot or vote early.
This past July, a San Francisco-based nonpartisan get-out-the-vote effort called Thousand Flowers began its Adopt-a-Salon program. More than 20,000 women have already registered through the program, in which Thousand Flowers distributed beauty kits to salons and Body Shop stores nationwide. Each kit includes nail files, countertop displays, posters and registration materials that allow women to register to vote while they wait for their hair to set or nails to dry.
Other get-out-the-vote efforts geared toward courting unregistered women are more partisan in nature. Running in Heels, for example, is an online political action committee fighting to get Kerry elected. The group’s slogan is “Protecting women’s interests by exercising the right to vote.”
“We are energizing the high-heel vote to defeat Bush,” said Running in Heels founder Caryn Schenewerk. “This election is about more than just the abortion issue, and we want to bring all these issues home to single-women voters.”
Laine Glisson, vice president of the Dutko Group, a Washington, D.C.-based lobbying firm, said that while women base their choice for president on more issues than just abortion, it may be hard for them to see how certain “checkbook” issues directly affect their lives when they don’t have children to raise.
“Some of these issues may not affect women until they get a bit older or maybe until they get married,” Glisson said.
Kellyanne Conway, president of The Polling Co., a GOP market-research and consulting firm, agreed, saying that women don’t truly feel invested in the political system if they don’t have “the four M’s” in their lives: marriage, motherhood, a mortgage and a mutual fund.
Glisson said that the failure of single women to vote in past elections was frustrating given how hard many women initially fought for passage of the 19th Amendment, ratified in 1920, which guaranteed women the right to vote.
“The most effective thing single women can do is turn out to vote on Nov. 2 and prove that they in fact do care about what’s going on, and validate their powerful voice,” Pryce said. “If they act on Election Day, there is no question Washington will hear them loud and clear.”