Being single, Alyson Sheradin had no one to rely on when the financial crisis hit. She lost the considerable savin...
Being single, Alyson Sheradin had no one to rely on when the financial crisis hit. She lost the considerable savings she had tucked away after selling her business in 2002, and struggled to find work as a business consultant, recently moving in with a friend in the suburbs who does not charge her rent.
Ms. Sheradin, 49, a registered Libertarian, voted Republican in 2008. But now, as she weighs competing inclinations _ she believes Americans should have health care but is wary of President Obama_s plan; she bristles at burdens on small business but also at constraints on women_s rights _ she is not so sure. _I am definitely a swing vote,_ she said over a pizza lunch with single friends. _I have no idea._
As much as Ms. Sheradin is up for grabs in this election, so too are the legions of unmarried women who helped lift Mr. Obama to victory in 2008. Single women are one of the country_s fastest-growing demographic groups _ there are 1.8 million more now than just two years ago. They make up a quarter of the voting-age population nationally, and even more in several swing states, including Nevada.
And though they lean Democratic _ in a recent New York Times/CBS News poll, single women favored Mr. Obama over his Republican rival, Mitt Romney, by 29 points _ they are also fickle about casting their ballots, preoccupied with making ends meet and alienated from a political system they say is increasingly deaf to their concerns.
But the Obama campaign, needing their support to offset traditional Republican strength among married women, is lavishing attention on them. Mr. Obama and his allies are highlighting issues like Mr. Romney_s support for cutting federal funds to Planned Parenthood, which they say resonate with single women and that help draw a contrast between the two sides. A new Obama ad calling Mr. Romney _out of touch_ with average women on health and contraception issues began running last weekend in battleground states.
_It_s a very Democratic voting population, but it_s not registered or turning out at the same rate as their married counterparts,_ said Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster who has canvassed single women for the Voter Participation Center in Washington, pointing out that Mr. Obama had won among single women by a wide margin, but lost married women by three percentage points.
In 2010, though, turnout among single women, especially 18-to-29-year-olds, dropped more than for other groups, and Republicans won the women_s vote for the first time in 30 years. _The terrain is very fertile,_ Ms. Lake continued, _but we have to till the field._
In an election focused on the economy, single women present a complicated case. They already earn less than married people and single men, and they have not fared well during the Obama administration. They have had a harder time than married women paying rent, getting medical care and finding jobs. While the jobless rate for married women has stayed relatively low, at 5.6 percent compared with 2.6 percent before the recession, the rate for unmarried women has risen to 11 percent, from a prerecession level of 6 percent.
Still, polling and focus groups show that single women are reluctant to blame Mr. Obama for their economic woes and tend to approve of a greater role for government in crises. Their reliance on programs like welfare, food stamps and Medicaid has grown significantly since 2007. In 2010, 55 percent of their households got some form of assistance, not counting school lunches, compared with 18 percent of married women_s households.
_There_s definitely an opening_ for Republicans to court single women, said Courtney Johnson, who oversees women_s outreach for the Romney campaign. _I think women are looking for something different at this point. They_re saying, _I don_t like how things are going right now._ _
Both the Obama and the Romney campaigns say they are not drafting messages specifically for single women, even though single women have strikingly different concerns and voting habits than married women have. _How many campaigns start out with an ad that shows a happily married candidate, perfect kids, and talk about the marriage tax credit?_ Ms. Lake asked. _And you wonder why single women don_t turn out to vote._
The economy has damped enthusiasm among even core members of Mr. Obama_s base. In 2008, Carolyn Essex, 52, a black single mother in Las Vegas, knocked on doors and held house parties for Mr. Obama.
Not this year. Ms. Essex and her 9-year-old son are a step away from homelessness, living in transitional housing. _Right now,_ she said, _what_s more important is that I find a job._
(After the interview, Ms. Essex was offered a job at a casino, but said she would continue to focus on attaining stability rather than the election.)
Democrats say single women are highly motivated by women_s issues like threats to abortion rights, access to contraception and equal pay, arguing that what seem like social issues have a direct impact on their bottom line.
But Republicans insist those concerns have been trumped by the poor economy. _Rome is burning _ our country_s burning _ and you_re concerned about these issues?_ asked Maureen Karas, southern director for the Nevada Federation of Republican Women. _Birth control pills are like nine bucks. That_s like two lattes._
Democrats point to several races in which single women were the deciding factor, like the narrow victory of Senator Michael Bennet, a Democrat, in Colorado. More recently, though on a much smaller scale, women voters in a Democratic primary in North Las Vegas helped defeat a white male incumbent state senator, John Lee, in favor of a political newcomer, Patricia Spearman, who was outspent by a factor of 15.
Opponents of Mr. Lee made central issues of his support for restricting abortion rights and access to contraception. Fifty-four percent of the voters were women, and almost a third of them had never voted in a primary before, according to an analysis by Mr. Lee_s opponents.
_When you educate people about these issues,_ said Annette Magnus, the public affairs manager for the Nevada Advocates for Planned Parenthood Affiliates, which helped campaign against Mr. Lee, _they actually do go out and vote._
Opinion research shows that single women are less responsive to issues that have no immediate bearing on their daily lives, like corporate tax rates or the federal debt.
Tabitha Farr, a 32-year-old divorced mother of two whose income as a waitress has plummeted since the recession, agreed. _Deficit?_ she said. _No. I think about, _Can I pay for my child care this week?_ _
In several interviews, women of various political stripes said they believed that the president could do little to help them personally, or bolster prosperity in general.
_I feel like it doesn_t matter how I vote, what I think. They_re going to do what they_re going to do anyway,_ said Jeannine Loewy, 35, a divorced mother of two and a hairstylist who has lost a quarter of her clients since the recession. _And we just have to deal with it._
That feeling may fuel one of the Democrats_ great hopes _ that threats to abortion rights, attacks on Planned Parenthood and objections to the health care law_s requirement that insurance plans cover birth control pills _ will prove to be more meaningful for single women than jobs plans.
_I don_t think a new president will do much to help the economy,_ said Diane Jackson, 61, a former financial planner who is looking for work. _But I do see Obama at least protecting us from a radical takeover on social issues._
By SHAILA DEWAN