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, according to new focus group research. The perceived failure of the new president to fulfill a key campaign promise — to change Washington — leaves these unmarried women appalled with both parties and politics in general.
Few doubt the President’s intentions. However, most doubt his effectiveness and this leads them to the broader conclusion that it may not matter who they send to Washington. The economy hasn’t gotten better in their view and the government has become increasingly dysfunctional and embarrassingly ineffective. 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 is that a message speaking directly to their economic concerns and to the plight of the middle class re-opens them to the person and, to some extent, the process.
Some begin to believe politics can matter again.
The Voter Participation Center (VPC) partnered with Democracy Corps and Finding Common Groundto produce a series of focus groups exploring common values among people of color, youth, affluent suburban voters and unmarried women. This memorandum isolates one population — unmarried women — and focuses more on their mood and level of political engagement a year before Election Day. These are focus groups and not projectable to the larger population of unmarried women in the country, but the sentiments we heard are broadly consistent with recent survey results and sentiments in other groups in this project.
The single women we talked to in Raleigh were articulate and well-informed. Many are struggling economically, but despite that, remain hopeful and optimistic about their lives. Unfortunately, they do not see much help from their government or a political recourse for their frustration. Washington to them is dysfunctional, corrupt, infantile and, most poignantly, irrelevant to their lives.
Although they love the President and see some things to admire in the Republican candidates, they do not believe any candidate, or either party, is capable of delivering meaningful change. Out of habit and duty, they may vote, but without the conviction that their vote will make a real difference. Other unmarried women, similarly disengaged from politics, but less committed to the franchise, will not vote.
The answer is a greater focus on the plight of the middle class, as well as these women’s lives. The 2012 election needs to get personal for them, and fast.