voters

New voter bloc emerges: single women

Nov. 7, 2012 at 6:01 PM ET

Two-thirds of single women voted for President Barack Obama on Tuesday – showing that unattached women are a powerful Democratic voting bloc.

These women were galvanized not only by traditional “women’s” issues such as birth control and abortion rights, but also by Obama’s jobs message and health reform, analysts say.

NBC News national exit polling shows that 67 percent of unmarried women said they voted for Obama. That's in line with the 2008 election, when 70 percent of single women helped usher the president into office. This proves it wasn't a single-election phenomenon: unmarried women have solidified into a powerful voting force, experts say.

“One of the reasons for that is the birth control issue,” says American Association of University Women Policy Director Lisa Maatz. “Abortion -- reasonable people can disagree on that and do. But the whole issue of access to birth control…is something that most women thought was a settled issue.”

By the way -- this isn't just young women, Maatz pointed out. many of the single women voters were over 50 -- divorced, widowed or never married.

The fight started with Obama administration rules requiring all insurers, including employers, to pay for a woman’s birth control care free of charge. Purely religious employers such as the Catholic church got an out on it, but the rules said religiously affiliated employers such as universities had to cover their employees.

Conservatives came out in strong opposition, framing the issue as one of religious freedom. One young woman who spoke out in favor of the new rules, Sandra Fluke, was pilloried by right-wing radio commentators, including Rush Limbaugh, who called her a “slut”. Worse, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform  put together a panel to discuss the birth control mandate that consisted entirely of white men.

“It was an eye-opener for young women who never believed such rights could be taken away, and a galvanizer for older women as well,” Maatz said.

“Single women and suburban women were particularly moved into the Democratic column by the very extreme remarks and policies by conservatives,” added Tara McGuinness of the left-leaning Center for American Progress.

U.S. Rep. Todd Akin of Missouri was one example. His comments about “legitimate rape” set off one firestorm. Then Indiana state treasurer Richard Mourdock worsened matters when he said pregnancies resulting from rape were God’s will. Both men lost their bids to become senators.

But several women did get into the Senate, including Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts, Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin, and Claire McCaskill for Missouri. They’ll make for 19 women in the Senate – the most ever.

In New Hampshire, Democrat Maggie Hassan defeated Republican Ovide Lamontagne to become governor after a campaign centered on social issues including abortion and same-sex marriage. Hassan got  millions of dollars from groups such as EMILY's List, Planned Parenthood Action and abortion rights group NARAL.

Maatz said issues such as equal pay, and health reform’s attempts to stop health insurers from discriminating against women, also brought single women to the polls. The 2010 health reform law stops health insurance companies from common practices such as charging women more than men, and forces them to pay for birth control.

Minority women made up an especially big voice. Polls show 76 percent of Latinas and 96 percent of black women voted for Obama, according to the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health.  “Latinas, and all women of color, are a powerful constituency, and we proved that on election day,” said Jessica González-Rojas, executive director of the group. “In Florida, we worked with Latinas on the ground to defeat an attack on abortion coverage; in swing states, we cast deciding votes, and across the country, we raised our voices.”

McGuinness noted that there’s not such thing as a “women’s vote”. Plenty of conservative women supprted Romeny and other Republicans -- and many came down on the side of religious freedom, restricting access to abortion and allowing employers to opt out of providing birth control. Many also disapprove of Obama's handling of jobs and the economy.

 “That said, women made the difference in this election," McGuinness said. "Women determined the outcome of the election - period.”

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