Good morning, it’s Election Day, and you surely already know you need to vote. You need to vote because it’s how democracy works; you need to vote because today will determine which party is in control of the Senate, which in turn will help determine whether one goddamned thing will get done at a federal level over the next two years. You need to vote because there are Personhood measures that would grant citizenship to fertilized eggs on the ballot in Colorado and North Dakota. You need to vote because who controls not just Congress, but state legislatures, is also at stake. And governors and state legislatures determine whether or not you—or others in your state—will be able to vote next time. You need to vote because of the minimum wage and because of paid family leave and equal pay protections and Supreme Court appointments.
If you are a progressive voter, if you are a progressive female voter, and especially if you are a progressive single female voter, you have probably been told that today is going to end badly for you. I’m an eternal optimist, but even I have to concede that these predictions are probably correct.
But I also have to tell you that it is absolutely insanely important that you go out and vote anyway. Not just because your great-grandmother wasn’t allowed to vote or because your dad wasn’t allowed to vote or because you’ll get to wear that “I voted!” sticker all day long. Though those are all very good reasons.
I’m telling you that it is wildly important that you vote—even if you live in a state where results are a foregone conclusion, as many of you do—for reasons that are slightly unrelated to electoral outcomes.
If you are a progressive single woman, your vote today will help determine the direction in which the Democratic and Republican parties move in coming years. This is no joke, no minor piece of polling trivia: This is pragmatic responsibility.
Political parties and the politicians who represent their platforms are mercenaries: They will work on behalf of those who offer them power. There are only two real ways of giving them power: one, by giving them money—the kind of money spent by the Koch brothers and lobbyists and other Masters of the Universe whose abilities to sway the electoral process have now been enforced by the Supreme Court thanks to Citizens United. For most of us, that path to political influence isn’t exactly a practical one. That leaves only one other option, one that sometimes, especially on days like today, can feel a little bleak, a little futile.
But here’s why it doesn’t have to: No matter the results tonight, in the days that follow, pollsters and pundits will dig into the details of how it all went down. Among the numbers that will be tallied is how various categories of Americans voted.
Since the end of the twentieth century, the population of unmarried women has been growing, and with it, the electoral power of unmarried women. The category of single women happens to overlap with other categories of Americans who historically have been vastly under-represented by candidates, parties, and policy measures. In 2012, when single women were a startling 23 percent of the electorate, they made up almost 40 percent of the African American vote, 30 percent of the Latino vote, and more than 32 percent of all young voters, according to Page Gardner, head of Women’s Voices Women Vote Action Fund. Those unmarried female voters also voted for Barack Obama over Mitt Romney by a margin of 67 to 31. That, of course, was a presidential year, in which voter turnout is higher; unmarried women are notorious for sitting out non-presidential elections (possibly because they are usually referred to by some inane shorthand, as Carrie Bradshaw Voters or, this year, Beyoncé voters, unlike white men, who are typically referred to mostly as voters). But in 2013, single women turned out in Virginia, securing the state for Terry McAuliffe over Ken Cuccinelli for governor.
And this year, for a while, it was single women who were the source of what little hope has been available to Democrats. When pollster Stan Greenberg asserted just a month ago that he could say for the first time that “Democrats are more likely to hold the Senate than not” it was because of the widening gap amongst single female voters. Naturally, that hope got dashed pretty quickly, with some later polling showing a shrinking margin.
But what single female voters do at the polls today has a massive impact on what they will have the opportunity to do at the polls two years from now … and 20 years from now.
Because, as their power has increased, so has their pull on the Democratic Party. The fact that Democrats have spent the last two elections talking openly about support of reproductive rights, instead of pussyfooting around some “safe, legal, and rare” formulation? That several of them actually said the word “abortion” at the 2012 Democratic National Convention? That’s a strengthening of commitment to reproductive rights that has been sorely missing. An ignited interest in tending to women’s health care isn’t just some slow-dawning realization: It’s strategic reshaping of party priorities to appeal to a group of people who have wielded the most profound, game-changing power in Democrats ability to get elected in recent cycles.
Democrats have even gotten better at recognizing that access to birth control, sex education, and abortion aren’t just “social” concerns or part of some “culture war,” but are rather fundamental to women’s economic opportunity. This in turn means a growing recognition of other economic issues: family leave, paid sick day, equal pay protection, and the raising of the minimum wage. The racial diversity of single female voters also mean that the candidates and parties who want to claim their support will be forced, sooner rather than later, to reckon with legislation around immigration and voting rights.
These are the issues that are key to the expansion of opportunity and equality for more Americans as we move deeper into the twenty-first century, and single women have the power to keep their hands on the wheel, just by showing up at the polls.
This is why, even if every Democrat on every ballot were to lose their elections today, it would still matter whether or not single women showed up at the polls, and how they voted. Because in the next go-round, the party will be crunching the numbers to see how they can win. And if women, if single women, haven’t turned up for them, Democrats will quickly stop turning out in return.
It’s true that when it comes to elections, there are zillions of tricky political traps laid out to keep women, especially those who are marginalized in other ways—single women, young women, women of color—out of the picture. There are voting lines that make the already impossible balance of work and childcare impossible; there are restrictions that disenfranchise women and people of color most effectively. There are the insults from right wing pundits and boorish comments from Democratic men that are practically enough to get any woman to throw up her hands and stay away. There are the conservative, misogynistic white men who get feminists to spend all day before a crucial set of midterms fighting furiously with each other about Lena Dunham.
There’s really only one thing to be done to evade these pernicious little landmines. It’s to step away from Twitter, stand in line, fill out the provisional ballot if you have to, and vote. It might not win the night. But it could be key to winning the future.