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Democrats seek to increase voting among unmarried women

WASHINGTON—If unmarried women turned out in force for elections, they could shape the results. But they don't.

It's a tantalizing problem, especially for Democrats, whom unmarried women tend to favor. If the 20 million who didn't vote in 2004 had turned out, John Kerry would be in the White House, based on figures released Wednesday by a liberal get-out-the-vote group that specializes in women. If they'd even turned out at the same rate as married women, Kerry probably would've won.

Unmarried women are "by far the most Democratic base, except for African-Americans," said Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg, the chief executive officer of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, which conducted the survey. "We ought to be looking at this" as a political opportunity, he added.

About 54 million women in America aren't married, nearly half of all voting-age women, according to Greenberg. His survey, sponsored by the "Women's Voices. Women Vote. Action Fund," explored the reasons that 20 million single women elected not to vote in 2004.

Greenberg concluded from a survey of 1,509 unmarried women that they:

_Are more likely than unmarried men to thinks that politics is too complicated to understand.

_Doubt that their votes would make a difference.

_Worry most about the war in Iraq, followed by health care, then the economy and jobs.

_Earn much less than men or married women. Half of unmarried women are in households that earn less than $30,000 a year, about twice the fraction of married women.

_Disapprove of President Bush by a 2-to-1 ratio.

_Move more often than married women and are less likely to own their homes.

_Ignore mainstream media, so they're harder to reach through TV ads.

_Respond better to political ads that are framed in terms of issues and facts than to negative ads or ads that stress political party identity.

"They just sort of feel uninformed and not politically powerful," said Greenberg's daughter, Anna, the vice president of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner and a researcher for the study. "So they don't want to participate."

The ranks of unmarried women are growing faster than most other groups because women today wait longer before marrying for the first time and remain unmarried longer after divorce. They also are more likely to live with their partners before marrying and to live with them longer.

African-American women often are unmarried partly because they find it difficult to marry outside their race. Due to high mortality and incarceration rates, there are 86 African-American men for every 100 women, said Avis Jones-DeWeever, a researcher for the Institute for Women's Policy Research, a nonprofit that studies income security for women.

Low wages for single women make them feel marginalized, she added. "Unmarried women don't vote because the government doesn't pay attention to them."

Stanley Greenberg said the findings showed the potential for recruiting unmarried women to vote. To get through to a group that shuns mainstream media, he suggested using cell phones, e-mails and door-to-door campaigns, especially in swing states or districts in which the vote is likely to be close.

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(c) 2006, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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