Want a sure-fire way to keep women away from the polls? How about calling large groups of them "single and anxious"?
I opened a blog post yesterday to the lede: "It's almost official. Single women are poised to be the "Security Mom" or "Soccer Mom" of the 2008 election. They even have their own easy to remember moniker: the "Single Anxious Female."
If you follow politics, you've no doubt heard that unmarried women represent a holy grail of voters: 50 million or so likely Democrats that year after year, flirt with voting and political activism, but don't commit. This cycle, they're dubbed the "Sex and the City voters." To woo these women, the establishment provides celebrities, and catchy spots laced with sexual innuendo--ooh, winking about their first time! Voting, that is.
My friend and Democratic pollster Margie Omero sent me the post about the Single Anxious Female frame. She noted to me, "Women, across marital status groups, vote at a higher rate than do men. But the coverage stemming from concern about "Single Anxious Women" (even called the "Sex in the City Voter") not only doesn't reflect the data, it trivializes women." Even in 2007, women are pitched civics lessons as if we can only relate to global affairs if the issues are dressed in sexy shoes, just folks style dishing, or are at lunch with Samantha, Carrie and the girls.
Margie writes that the frame "about single women and voting is not borne out by the data. There is indeed a "Marriage Gap" among women. Married people vote at a higher rate than non-married people. But the marriage gap is actually larger among men. According to Census reports from the 2004 election, married men are as likely to vote (63% turnout) as married women (65%). But unmarried men (which includes single, divorced, separated, and widowed) are substantially less likely to vote (46%) than unmarried women (55%). The marriage gap is 10 points among women, and is nearly twice that (18 points) among men.
"If you look specifically at single, never-married adults, this pattern holds. A majority of single women voted in 2004 (52%), compared to fewer single men (43%). This is even true with 18 to 24 year-olds (47% of single women in that group vote, compared to 40% of single men)."
So I guess single men are too busy playing Guitar Hero to vote. How come they don't have a stereotypical name to describe their supposed wont at the polls?
Margie finishes by saying "Women vote at a higher rate than men. Unmarried women, however defined, vote at a higher rate than unmarried men. And this pattern holds across age groups."
Yes, women vote more than men. We're also more likely to attend City Council and local school board sessions. But men are more likely to hold local governance positions and more likely to "take a stand" in politics...
And here's where I start to squirm: according to a new report from Harvard's Shorenstein Center, "National polls show men know more than women about politics and political figures."
Plus, "Men follow political news much more closely than women- and in the case of economic news and international relations stories- much more closely. ...But women are just as attentive as men to pay attention to certain kinds of political news- especially court decisions."
Court decisions? Seriously? But then I read on...the Pew data shows that when it comes to "Campaign related" coverage, there's only a 2% difference in attention paid between men and women. Domestic policy shows the same -2% difference.
In polling, 2% is a rounding error, not a difference. I don't think such numbers deserve blind credence. But numbers are easily manipulated, and of course, there is some truth to the matter. Women are socialized to believe they have more weight when it comes to local matters, close to home. Anecdotally, the men in my life do feel much more confident discussing national and global affairs than the women. Women talk about health care and family issues. That's why the US ranks 82nd in the world in percentage of women serving in the national legislature. We're socialized to expect to care less about news and politics. But do low expectations create "Single Anxious/Sex and the City Voters" who care more about style than substance?
I don't think so. It's time to fight the frames. Sure, headlines like "Sex and the City Voters" are much cuter than "Women Know Climate Change is a National Security Issue" but who cares. We need to get up, put down the Style section, and start talking outside our comfort zones. I'll never forget when Marie Wilson, White House Project founder said to me, "If you want to be taken seriously as a political blogger, stop writing so much about choice."
Statistics can be massaged. But strength in numbers at the polls- that'll make some people anxious all right. But not unmarried women.
Morra Aarons-Mele also blogs at BlogHer.com.