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Marriage Gap Key to Unlocking the Gender Gap in 2010 and Beyond

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The Fat Lady isn't singing yet. Women will make up the majority of the electorate on Tuesday and they will decide -- depending whether more married or unmarried women turn out -- who sings on Election Day.

Though much has been made this cycle about the gender gap, there would be no gender gap if there weren't a marriage gap -- the differences between married and unmarried women. Marital status has long been a key determinant of both voter participation and preference. Traditionally unmarried women -- single, divorced, separated and widowed - are less likely to register and vote than married women. And unmarried women tend to support progressive candidates and platforms.

Unmarried women were a key part of the Obama base -- along with people of color and young voters. In 2008, unmarried women supported the president 70 percent to 29 percent; married women supported Senator McCain by three points. That's a marriage gap of 44 points. The gap won't be that large this election -- but it will still be significant and that split could be determinative. As a voting bloc, late-deciding unmarried women have the demographic strength to decide a number of races this cycle.

Here's why unmarried women could stem the tide on November 2:

  • They typically make decisions late in the game and tend to be progressive
  • Polling shows they are paying more attention than they have all year
  • They have been hurt by the economic downturn, but are much less angry about it
  • They don't distrust government, but look to government for solutions

Clearly, in midterm election when significant numbers of voters are expected to drop off, small changes in turnout could have big consequences. In the last midterm election:

  • The four closest Senate races were decided by an average of 20,000 votes.
  • The four closest gubernatorial races were decided by an average of about 15,000 votes.
  • And the 15 closest House races were decided by an average of about 2,000 votes each.

That's why it's still too early to call this election over and why efforts still must be made in these final four days to talk to and turn out the one out of every two women in the United States is unmarried and who make up nearly 25% of total eligible voters in the United States.

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