The Long Kiss Goodbye
Nicole Halpern's decision to become politically active came down to two numbers: 22 million and 537. Earlier this year, Halpern, a 30-year-old, living in San Francisco, heard that 22 million single women did not vote in the 2000 election, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. That fact, combined with the slim margin of President Bush's victory in Florida (537 votes) made Halpern realize that single women could and should make a difference in this election.
So on July 3, Halpern started WAKEup2004.com, which stands for Women Advocate Kerry Edwards. "I was frustrated about the actions of this administration and decided to channel my frustration and sadness into this project," Halpern said. She said that like many other women, she has been intimidated by politics, and was frustrated by all of the negativity in the political process. "Candidates would always say one thing and do another."
WAKEup's lofty goal is to get 2.2 million single women to register and vote for the Democratic ticket. The group distributes information about both candidates' positions on issues using the Internet and some old-fashioned communications techniques. WAKEup encourages women to distribute a chain letter it produced to at least five of their single friends to encourage them to register and vote.
WAKEUP volunteers kicked off the campaign by sending 500 letters to female friends across the country, with special emphasis on swing states. Halpern said WAKEUP is also putting up posters in laundromats and is organizing 500 social events in 25 days to increase awareness about the importance of voting. Halpern said that on Oct. 19, participants will gather at post offices to send letters to the White House with a lipstick kiss on the envelope "kissing the President goodbye."
"We are going to break the Bush jinx by having fun," Halpern said. "Getting involved can be very empowering."
The bevy of female-oriented get-out-the-vote groups spawned this year includes both non-partisan and left-leaning initiatives using a variety of communication techniques. GetOutHerVote.org, a spin-off from the Feminist Majority Foundation, is organizing teams of women on college campuses to recruit young women to register to vote, while 1000flowers.org is distributing beauty kits with the get-out-the-vote message to 1000 beauty salons.
Women's Voices, Women Vote is a research-based campaign collecting data about how to most effectively reach unmarried women who do not vote. The clearly partisan WomenAgainstBush.org is organizing cocktail parties to reinforce its message of protecting women's rights by voting.
So could these independent efforts add up to something tangible at the ballot box?
Maybe so, according to Dianne Bystrom, the director of the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics at Iowa State University. Bystrom said that because single women tend to vote heavily democratic, a "one to three percent increase in the number of single women voting could make the difference in the election."
Bystrom said that focusing on recruiting single women would help John Kerry because of a "marriage" gap in women's voting tendencies. Bystrom said that an August poll conducted by USA Today, CNN and the Gallup Organization showed a 38-point gap in preference for president, as Bush lead by a 13 percent margin with married women, while Kerry led by 25 percent with single women.
Single women are more concerned about health care and the economy since 54 percent of unmarried women earn less than $30K per year, according to Bystrom. Married women, who tend to live in households with higher incomes, focus more on terrorism and security, she said.
While having cocktail parties and writing letters are important, Bystrom said the women's groups need to personally follow up with potential voters after they register to make sure they turnout on election day. "Single women have a problem getting to the polls," she said. "If you wait until election day, you could be sick, or the car could break down."
To increase voter turnout, Bystrom suggests that organizations urge people to take advantage of absentee ballots or the early voting days that are available in some states. At Iowa State, for example, students are organizing pizza parties on the two Saturdays in early October that the state allows ballots to be completed early.
Theresa Wabler, a 24-year-old consultant from suburban Philadelphia, said most of her gal pals do not vote and are politically averse. Wabler, who recently registered to vote for the first time, said the prevailing perception among her 20-something friends is that "politics belongs to our parents' generation."
"I guess they fall susceptible to the dispersion of responsibility by anonymity.... someone else will be responsible so I don't have to be," Wabler said. She said that attempting to target single women, especially those who are college educated with secure careers, is difficult because "there isn't a single issue discussed that appears relevant to us collectively."
Wabler said the ongoing war in Iraq is the key issue compelling her to vote this year. While in the past she felt "We're living in America, how bad can it get?" the current direction of the country "has eliminated the false faith that every thing will be okay."
Getting a higher percentage of single women to vote is seen as essential to counter the vote of married women who tend to vote Republican. Recent polls indicate that so-called "security moms" with children tend to support Bush because he is viewed as a stronger leader in fighting terrorism.
Women like Wabler who registered this year will likely go to the polls, according to Raymond E. Wolfinger, the Heller Professor of Political Science, University of California, Berkeley. Wolfinger said that 85 to 90 percent of people "really" registered to vote show up at the polls.
Wolfinger said most voter rolls are filled with "deadwood" names of people who no longer live in an area but continue to be listed on the voter rolls. Wofinger said "One-third of all adults in the U.S. changed residences within last 2 years," and their names usually aren't taken off the rolls."
According to the 2000 Census data, only 41.2 percent of women aged 18-44 who have never married voted, compared to just 34.3 of men in the same category. Torrey Strohmeier, the founder of She19.com, said it is a mistake for so many women to fail to vote. "To give (away the right to vote) away is insane," said Strohmeier.
In Strohmeier's social circles, friends were hesitant to have political discussions. "It was scary to be an advocate for a certain position." So she designed a tee shirt referring to the 19th amendment to open as a conversation starter. "(The tee shirts are) an easy way for people to begin to have a very important conversation."
Strohmeier quit her full-time job to dedicate her time to selling tee shirts and coordinating parties to preach the importance of voting, especially in 2004. "If we learned anything from the 2000 election, it is that every vote counts."