Iowa and New Hampshire turned out to be the day of the woman: But not exactly for the reason that you might think.
There was a very potent voting bloc -- that emerged and caucused last week in Iowa -- and then turned out and stood up in New Hampshire in overwhelming numbers: Women. And more specifically, unmarried women.
Here's why it matters. In the last two elections 2 million more of these women have entered the electorate. They are now solidly in the mix. Capturing married women has long been a huge part of every candidate's campaign strategy. But until very recently, unmarried women have been virtually ignored by both the candidates and the press. That is until the new Census came out in 2006 presenting the new America: For the first time in our nation's history, single heads of households exceed married ones. And the majority of these are headed by single women. These women are being mobilized -- moved by feeling the power and influence their vote can have on the issues they care about: The war, the economy, health care. They want change and this time they may come out in record numbers. They have historically been the largest group of non-voters in America but if that changes this year and the trend toward a higher turnout of these voters continues -- they could decide who becomes the next president of the United States. It's as simple and as complicated as that.
If you think that this is an overstatement. Keep reading.
57% of caucus goers in Iowa were women. Of those, 28% were unmarried women. Single women made up a greater share of the Iowa Democratic caucus electorate than their presence in the overall state population. While unmarried women are 22% of the eligible voting age population in Iowa, network entrance polls suggest that they were 28% of participants in the Democratic caucus. This is unprecedented. Network exit polls out of New Hampshire reveal that 50% of unmarried women voted for Clinton, 33% for Obama and 11% for Edwards. Unmarried women accounted for 22% of all New Hampshire Democratic Party voters.
Okay. So even without getting awash in statistics, that's a lot of people.
Perhaps what is most interesting about Iowa and New Hampshire is that these women, and women in general, may not be voting along gender lines and thus keeping the top tier candidates on their toes -- along side the pollsters, analysts and pundits.
I have followed this voting bloc closely as my company, Balcony Films has been creating media campaigns and Public Service announcements to reach these voters for the past two election cycles, working with the non-profit non-partisan voter engagement group Women's Voices, Women Vote. Women's Voices, Women Vote has been studying and registering single women since the 2000 election when they realized that 22 million single women did not vote in that election.
For last year's mid-term election our campaign "Remember Your First Time" featured several film and TV actresses talking about their "first time"...voting. It received a lot of media attention, and came on the heels of the new Census.
Our current PSA campaign features a diverse group of women in the Oval Office to make the point that if this group participates they could be the pivotal voice in 2008. Gender will continue to play an historic role in this election; but it may not be a predictable one.
The only thing that may be clear in this volatile presidential race is that the common ground among these voters -- and perhaps all voters -- is the desire for change and the demand for a candidate that best personifies that change is the only constant. It is safe to say that that we are in a transformational moment: That, as Obama repeatedly says on the campaign trail, "something is stirring in the air. Something is coming".
So I am interested to know: What comes first, the change candidate or the change agents? If a candidate arrives that inspires change does that awaken something in us or have we awakened something in them? What is the secret sauce? It's kind of like that old saying that change happens gradually and then suddenly. It would seem that we are at that place now... maybe...hopefully.
So it may be best to accept that we just don't know what is going to happen...yet. But even though the future may be a bit opaque at the moment the road to understanding how these single women have come into their own and could alone decide the fate of the presidential election is very real.
It would seem from the overwhelming turnout of these women that the last two cycles of outreach to them is working in concert with their own growing feeling that things have got to change. The strategy for reaching and empowering them has been afoot for several election cycles now -- and the moment for all of that outreach, grassroots organizing and messaging has reached a tipping point. They feel their power and they know what they need to do to leverage it. But how and with whom they will ultimately stand is still, well...changing.
The biggest news about the way these women caucused in Iowa is that they voted not on gender, but consistent with the issues that matter to them the most: They were the first voting bloc to place ending the war in Iraq at the top of their agenda. So they voted overwhelmingly democratic and against the war. They didn't play the role that any movie script would have written for them: they voted for Barack Obama because they believe him to be the stronger anti-war candidate. The New Hampshire primary might have gone the same way as Iowa -- except for that rare unscripted and spontaneous moment we all witnessed -- when Hillary Clinton broke the fourth wall. It revealed something voters seemed to be yearning for; it may have been Senator Clinton's moment of poetry that drew more democratic voters -- maybe even specifically women voters -- to her.
Change goes hand-in-hand with the symbols of it. And this election may be as much about a kind of generational transfer of power as it is about gender and race. It's really interesting to me that almost no one has yet mentioned that Senator Clinton's victory in New Hampshire was the first time in our history that a woman won a presidential primary. Maybe that's a good thing; that the discussion of the need for change is beyond these outward signals and hovering over trying to find that deeper definition. Only one thing seems certain right now. Just as there are new and old leaders in the field of candidates, there are equally powerful signals of old and new leadership taking shape in the electorate. There is another historical first, the power of which cannot be minimized or ignored: There are as many single, divorced, widowed and unmarried women in this country as there are married ones. They account for 26% of eligible voters nationally and they are finding their voices too.
Go to www.wvwv.org to learn more about the power of the single women's vote.