The fate of the Democrats in November's midterm elections will depend heavily on voter turnout -- particularly among unmarried women, who are historically less likely to vote in non-presidential election years. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is aiming to reverse that trend by embarking on a national bus tour to talk to single women about economic proposals that directly affect them.
The bus tour will kick off June 1 in Seneca Falls, New York -- the site of the nation's first women's rights convention in 1848 -- and end four days later in Chicago. Pelosi and other Democratic members of Congress will travel to seven cities to meet local women and talk to them about their comprehensive women's economic agenda, "When Women Succeed, America Succeeds." The agenda includes legislative proposals like guaranteed paid family and sick leave, equal pay legislation, a higher minimum wage, more broadly affordable child care and stronger workplace protections for pregnant women.
"Single moms are busy holding down at least one job or more, raising their families and keeping the ship afloat, so they don't have time to be thinking about politics and what's going on in Washington, D.C., especially when they don't see an agenda that affects them directly," Pelosi told The Huffington Post. "We hope we can give them hope by elevating this discussion and letting them know that somebody is fighting the fight for them."
Unmarried women overwhelmingly favored President Barack Obama in the 2012 election, contributing to the historic gender gap that propelled him to victory. But the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee estimates that participation among unmarried women will drop off significantly in the upcoming midterm, from 58 percent turnout in 2012 to 39 percent in 2014.
One way to motivate women voters to turn out, the DCCC has concluded, is to talk to them about the economy. Women are the primary or co-breadwinners in two-thirds of American families, but they are far less financially secure than men. Women make up a disproportionate majority of minimum wage workers, and they earn up to 20 percent less than men on average.
"I think this is a situation where good policy is meeting good politics," said Kelly Ward, executive director of the DCCC. "Advocating for women and families and the middle class has always been at the core of the party's values, but we have a real opportunity to talk to women about this now, at a time when economic issues are on the minds of voters and women are feeling the squeeze."
Most Republicans in Congress oppose the Democrats' women's economic proposals, saying they believe more government interference would only hurt the economy without boosting women's pay. Republicans blocked the Paycheck Fairness Act earlier this year, a bill that aimed to make it easier for women to sue employers over pay discrimination, because they said it would only serve to line the pockets of trial lawyers.
Pelosi said she hopes the bus tour will motivate women to turn out this year -- not only to elect more Democrats, but to pressure Republicans to rethink their positions on some of these economic policies.
"The fact is, women have a lot to lose by not voting in this midterm election," she said. "The very idea that they would come out to the polls in big numbers can affect Republican thinking on these issues, and that would be a good thing."