President Barack Obama has recently devoted a lot of time to firing up the “X” factor and wooing women voters. He “grew up as the son of a single mom,” Obama reminded Barnard graduates during his commencement address at the women’s college, “who struggled to put herself through school and make ends meet.”
His team surely knows that if single mothers like the president’s show up in November, they could make up his margin for victory, even as the most recent ABC News/Washington Post polling shows Romney gaining among women. Unmarried women supported Obama by far more than 2 to 1 in 2008 and now make up fully one quarter of America’s eligible voters.
In a year when women’s votes are more critical than ever, turning out this group — many of whom juggle at least one job while raising children — might matter most.
“This is going to be one of the most major demographic groups going forward,” said Celinda Lake, who has been tracking the growth of what the Voter Participation Center calls the “Rising American Electorate,” including unmarried women and other “historically underrepresented” groups, “because of the seismic shifts in the population.”
Numbers bear this out. America is now home to a record 53 million unmarried women, up 19 percent in the past decade. Single mothers’ ranks have climbed alongside this growth, rising from 8.5 million in 2000 to more than 10 million today. If these women show up at the polls, they usually vote Democratic.
During the GOP primaries, former Sen. Rick Santorum charged that the ‘biggest problem with the poverty of America” is the “breakdown of the American family.” Santorum called single mothers the “base” of the Democratic Party. This was not intended as a compliment to the Democratic coalition that elected Obama in 2008.
But Santorum’s view of their role in the Democratic base is not incorrect: Unmarried women broke by an overwhelming 70 percent to 29 percent for Obama over Sen. John McCain in 2008. Single moms, who made up 4 percent of the electorate that year, logged a healthy 55.8 percent turnout.
That number dropped by nearly half in 2010 — when the House GOP captured women’s votes for the first time in decades. But recent polling shows that all the talk about them, plus the debate about women’s health freedoms and the economic wallop delivered by the Great Recession, may lead single moms back to the polls — and the president — come November.
“Unmarried women with children are probably the most progressive voters in the country,” said Page Gardner, founder and president of the Women’s Voices Women Vote Action Fund, “and so their values are progressive and they will have an increasing influence on the kinds of candidates that get elected. Given their numbers among unmarried women, we are very much focused on single moms.”
It’s not just their swelling numbers — it’s their location. Single mothers’ ranks have spiked in a number of swing states. So where could they make a difference?
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