Mother’s Day evokes images of cards given with sleep still in the eyes of children and mother’s alike; Sunday brunches or breakfast in bed; special dinners with no responsibility for cooking or dishwashing! Yet all of the images we commonly associate with Mother’s Day most likely include the “nuclear” family – mother, father, and children. However, this image is like a black and white Kodak picture that has begun to yellow in the scrapbook. It is woefully out of date.
Today, many Mother’s Days will be celebrated with mother and child�??????on their own. America has become a nation of unmarried people. In the 1950’s, 80 percent of households were headed by married people. Today, 50 percent of households are headed by an unmarried woman or man. In fact, a third of unmarried women under-45 years of age have children living at home.
Women’s Voices. Women Vote (www.wvwv.org) is a groundbreaking effort to increase the number of unmarried women who let their voices be heard in the polling booth. Unmarried women don’t register and don’t vote in the same numbers as voters overall or their married sisters. If unmarried women had voted at the same rate as married women, there would have been 6 million more voters in 2000. Unmarried women can decide this election and many more to come.
Women’s Voices. Women Vote has conducted extensive research to understand the voting patterns of unmarried women historically and in all their diversity to determine how to motive them to register and vote. In our national and state surveys and focus groups, we took a special look at mothers on their own.
Mothers on their own are struggling economically and worry about their ability to care both for themselves and their families. They deeply desire change and want the country to move in a different direction. They are economic populists with deep concerns about health care and the economy. They are most concerned about two things: making sure this country teaches its children important values and making sure that all children have access to quality public education.
Mothers on their own don’t register and don’t vote because they think politicians are just in it for themselves. (This is not true of women elected officials, who they regard very highly). They believe candidates run just to get elected, not to solve problems. They don’t think these male politicians have “walked in their shoes” or understand what life is about for a woman on her own with kids.
Despite their opinions of politicians, they have a very expansive view of the beneficial role of government. Most important to them is the belief that the public sector should ensure quality public education and maintain a strong military and defense program to protect our country. Keeping the economy strong, equal pay, and keeping jobs in this country also are critical government responsibilities, they believe. The public sector needs to be involved in building communities that reinforce fundamental American values: fairness, service, opportunity, and hope.
Our survey and focus group research shows that women on their own, particularly those with children, can be motivated to vote if we speak to what they care about most. First, we need to recognize their power and their independence. They have been supporting themselves and their families and they have been making it on their own. Second, they are impressed with the fact that 22 million unmarried women didn’t vote in 2000. Third, we must tie their power, both individually and collectively, to key issues of concern, particularly education.
So, all you mothers who are raising children on your own, go out and vote. You can determine the future of our country, both for yourselves and for your children. Open your Mother’s Day cards, eat the (almost done) pancakes, and tell your children that you are going to change the world. You are going to vote.
Page Gardner and Chris Desser are the co-directors of Women’s Voices. Women Vote. Anna Greenberg is the Vice President of Greenberg, Quinlan, Rosner Research.