One year out from the 2012 election and new quantitative and qualitative research makes it very clear -- next year will be very different from 2008, when Democrats captured the White House, gained seven U.S. Senate seats and the majority, and expanded their control of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Today, key progressive supporters are disengaged and unenthusiastic. The results of focus groups conducted by The Voter Participation Center (VPC), Democracy Corps and Finding Common Ground to explore common values among people of color, youth, affluent suburban voters and unmarried women, confirm the wide enthusiasm gap between Republicans and Democrats found in recent surveys. According to Gallup, 39 percent of Republicans describe themselves as "extremely enthusiastic" about the 2012 elections; just 18 percent of Democrats do.
A just-released memo drilling down on the attitudes of the unmarried women who participated in the common values focus groups, Re-Energizing Unmarried Women, explains, "Unmarried women - who make up more than a quarter of America's voting-eligible population -- today feel disengaged and alienated from politics and that threatens their participation in the next election. The perceived failure of the new president to fulfill a key campaign promise -- to change Washington -- leaves these unmarried women detached from both parties and politics in general."
According to the memo, "These women stand by the President for the most part, but are in a far different place than they were in 2008. As one woman memorably noted, she will vote for the President, but will not put his bumper sticker back on her car this year."
The good news, the memo notes, is that a message speaking directly to the economic concerns of unmarried women "re-opens them to some extent... to the process. Some begin to believe politics can matter again."
And the re-engagement of unmarried women will be exceptionally important to progressives next year, given the fact that for the first time in history the majority of Democrats are unmarried. According to Gallup's analysis of the 2012 Democratic electorate, Democrats continue to be more female, more liberal, less white and significantly less married than they were in 2008.
Gallup's analysis of tens of thousands of nightly tracking-poll interviews shows unmarried adults growing from 42 percent of adults in early 2008 to 47 percent in mid-2011. Married adults fell from 57 percent to 53 percent, so the unmarried share of adults was up about five percent. Within the Democratic Party that trend was even more pronounced -- 54 percent of Democrats are now unmarried compared to 48 percent three years ago. The percentage of married Democrats fell from 51 percent to 46 percent in the same time span.
Clearly, the demographics of the Democrat Party and the country have changed and those changes are reshaping the American electorate.
Unmarried women, Latinos, African-Americans and other people of color and young people under 30 make up the Rising American Electorate (RAE). These Americans who make up 53% of the voting eligible population, were responsible for 95 percent of U.S. population growth between 2008 and 2011, but were only 42 percent of the 2010 electorate and 47% in 2008. Registering and re-energizing these voters are key to ensuring the 2012 electorally is truly representative.