With the nation's attention riveted on the worst financial crisis since 1929 and a nationally televised debate featuring the first female vice presidential nominee since 1984, American women are paying close attention to the candidates who are competing and the issues that are at stake.
In order to encourage informed participation in the elections, an organization that I founded - the Women's Voices, Women Vote Action Fund - is presenting an "issues slot machine" on our website. This web feature presents the positions of the presidential and vice presidential candidates - Barack Obama, John McCain, Sarah Palin, and Joe Biden - on issues such as fair pay, reproductive rights, health care, the Iraq War, and educational opportunity that are of interest to women, especially women who are struggling to survive on their own in this uncertain economy.
We're focusing on increasing and informing the political participation of the nation's more than 53 million single, separated, divorced and widowed women - 26 percent of all voting-age Americans. These "women on their own" are up against economic challenges that public policies should be addressing. More than 10 million are single moms with children at home. More than 40 percent of unmarried women have household incomes of $30,000 a year or less. They are less likely than married people to have health coverage or to own their own homes or even to have cars. They are more vulnerable to home foreclosures, credit cutoffs, and layoffs than married people and understandably feel excluded from Congressional debates that concentrate on baling out investment bankers on Wall Street while ignoring single moms on Main Street.
But, because they are less likely than married people to participate in the political process, their needs are often overlooked by public officials. Compared to married women, they are nine percent less likely to register and ten percent less likely to vote.
Largely because of their economic vulnerability, these women strongly support changing the country's course. For instance, in Gallup Poll results for September 15 through 21, unmarried women favored Barack Obama over John McCain by 59 percent to 32 percent. But married women favored McCain over Obama by 48 percent to 46 percent, and married men backed McCain over Obama by 55 percent to 39 percent. If these "women on own" voted in greater numbers, they could change America's leadership and direction.
What will it take to bring more unmarried women to the polls? In surveys and focus groups, they have told us they need more trustworthy information from reliable sources about the election process, the candidates and the issues. That's why the "issues slot machine" is so important. "Women on their own" need to know, for example, how the candidates compare on raising the minimum wage and maintaining an American troop presence in Iraq.
With very little help from public policies, these women are meeting their responsibilities at home and at work. With the information they need, they can meet their responsibilities as citizens as well and change America for the better.