As a character drawn and focus-grouped by political consultants, Julia is designed to remind voters of the government programs President Obama champions and likely GOP nominee Mitt Romney is ostensibly intent on taking away. Julia goes to school (with help from Headstart and federal student loans), she works (thank you, Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and Small Business Administration), she has a son (free health screenings brought to her by Obamacare) and she retires (Social Security and Medicare pay the bills while she volunteers in a community garden).
But Julia is a more artful and nuanced creation than a simple tour guide to the utopia that awaits under a second Obama term. She is designed to appeal to a narrow but deep demographic: single women, especially single women with kids.
In 2007, the United States passed a significant demographic milestone, when the census reported that the majority of American households were headed by unmarried people. It was the crest of a wave that had been building for some time. Since 1960, the percentage of the population that is over age 15 and unmarried increased from 32 percent to 45 percent. If this trend continues, singles (including unmarried people who are cohabiting) will make up the majority of Americans in less than 15 years.
And in this nation of swinging singles, women are dominant. Because women live longer than men, there are about 10 million more single women than single men, and their ranks are growing. While the number of voting-eligible married women grew by 7 percent between 2000 and 2010, the number of voting-eligible single women increased by 19 percent. This election year, unmarried voting-eligible women are estimated to number 55 million, more than 25 percent of the voting-eligible population.
It’s that word — “eligible” — that Democrats are focused on. Although polls show that married women favor Romney over Obama, unmarried women are the most reliably Democratic voting group outside African Americans. They constituted a whopping 71-to-29 percent majority for Obama in 2008, earning them a place in what Democrats call their “rising American electorate” — the people of color, the young and the unmarried women who helped deliver the presidency for Obama in 2008, and who Democrats desperately want back in 2012.
The problem is, the rising American electorate is a reliable Democratic vote only when it bothers to register and show up. And even though they show a current 44-point preference for Obama, unmarried women — especially those with children — register and vote at lower rates than married women.
The turnout of unmarried women is so unreliable that, until the 2000 presidential election, Democrats generally wrote off the single female vote as not worth the effort. But in that razor-thin contest, strategists noticed for the first time that 22 million members of their most reliable cohort of voters did not go to the polls. If single women had cast ballots in the same proportions as married women, Al Gore probably would have received the punched chads of an additional 6 million voters, more than enough to have won him the White House.