THE 2016 ELECTION
Does anyone remember when the term “soccer mom” became a reference point for the most coveted voter in an election? That was a mere 10 years ago. Women’s issues used to be discussed in a tone that seemed to reference pedicures and gynecological appointments. Now, these are the issues that are deemed essential for a rising cohort that is looking to play big, earn big and live large. Politicians are being forced to “lean in” and listen to the needs and desires of the woman entrepreneur who is looking to raise a family, increase her income and give back to those in need—all by herself.
Just a few years ago, politicos shared the belief that there was a large group of educated, yet naïve women looking to be led into the safe arms of a strong, patriarchal leader. Their focus was on the stay-at-home mom, who was looking for safety and protection for her mini-van clan. It was a charming image, and one that kept women firmly tucked in next to their spouses, voting for the greater good.
Today’s critical voter image is of a strong, smart female, creating a lifestyle of her own choosing. Whatever party you prefer, Democratic or Republican, the new focus is on woman rising—the strong, independent female who is looking for dramatic changes in government and policy. No longer simply queen of the carpool, the women who are seeking improvements in business, work/life balance and opportunity are now being courted. And of this group, we find the real power coming from single women—a group that is rising in size and power like never before. Single women are now the largest voting bloc in America, accounting for nearly a quarter of all votes cast in the 2012 elections. And experts are predicting that 2016 will likely result in the largest gender gap in presidential voting we have seen in the past four decades.
In 2009, the proportion of American women who were married dropped below 50 percent. In other words, for the first time in American history, single women (including those who were never married, widowed, divorced, or separated) outnumbered married women. This is a massive shift in our nation, really upending the traditional definition of what being an American female can mean. When something statistically becomes the norm, it creates a new reality: a population of women who no longer are defined by the man they marry. What is really interesting is that this is not the result of some radical feminist agenda. We have reached a time and place in our moral, sexual and economic path where it’s OK for women to explore all aspects of possibility on their own, and on their own terms.
What makes this so exciting—and mission critical for those engaged in the electoral process—is that the idea of appealing to a sense of sacrifice, of “family values” is no longer a guaranteed path to success. Those wishing to gain traction with female voters need to speak to each individual woman’s needs and desires to create a life around her fullest potential. And this has caused a dramatic sea change in the new political agenda. The independent female is demanding those things that improve her quality of life: pay equity, higher minimum wage, lowered college costs, more affordable health care and easily accessible reproductive rights. If we think back just one election cycle ago, these were considered radical topics. Today, every politician running is being asked to speak to their position on every one of them.
Why is this so important? As women gain status and power as a voting collective, their unique issues gain respect and gravitas. Single women, whether single mothers or not, live outside the “expected” terrain that the general market political system and tax benefit programs were built on. They are looking to create their own businesses, their own work hours and their own lifestyles built on their desires and needs—not those of their family. And these are needs that the next generation of politicians need to be cognizant of and sensitive to. Just two years ago, Hilary Clinton did not believe the paid leave act could be passed. The female constituent— committed, determined, ambitious and not willing to sacrifice her desires and needs as a mother in order to maintain her goals as a business woman—made sure it was passed.
Donald Trump has made much of the “Woman Card.” To him, it seems to speak only of gender. However, as the election continues to shake out in strange and wonderful ways, we see the woman’s card runs a lot deeper than pink. Flip it over and you will find a bar code of desire and dreams. Women no longer believe that they have to accept the status quo, as defined by the men who came before us. Women today want to create a truly rich and rewarding life, both as female and as a person. The question, in this year of the woman, is which presidential candidate can truly recognize how much the constituency has changed and how much she really wants.
For more from Lynn Casey visit: