Unmarried women voters — often dubbed the "Sex and the City" vote — have become hot political commodities in the 2008 race for the White House.
"Politicians will ignore this growing group of unmarried women voters at their peril," said Page Gardner, founder and president of Women's Voices Women's Vote, a group trying to register and politically mobilize the country's 50 million unmarried women voters.
For the first time in the nation's history, the number of unmarried, separated, divorced and widowed American women now equal the number of married women — representing 26 percent of the eligible voting population.
"This is the fastest-growing large demographic group in the country," Gardner said. Census data reflects a continuing decline in the percentage of married couple households, dropping from 52.5 percent of households in 2000 to 49.7 percent of households in 2006.
That upward trend could be a potential advantage for the Democratic Party in the 2008 election. The vast majority of married women have historically tended to vote Republican, while unmarried women have leaned Democratic in the voting booth.
But while the unmarried women's group is growing faster and faster, unmarried women do not reliably turn out to vote. Single, unmarried women are less likely to register, and less likely to vote.
"In 2004, 20 million unmarried women did not participate in the election," Gardner said, noting 15 million didn't bother to register and 5 million who registered didn't vote.
Women's political organizations are trying to change that and tap into the trend, targeting unmarried women, and urging them to vote.
Monday, Women's Voices Women's Vote launched three new public service ads, targeting the 50 million unmarried women in the United States.
The ads, which will run on cable television starting today, feature Hollywood actresses and regular working women, urging the 20 million unmarried women, who did not vote in 2004, to register and vote in 2008.
The ads will run in 25 states with a goal of registering more than 1 million single women to vote.
"This year, there are 20 million reasons to register and vote," says "Seinfeld" actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus in the ad, standing in a Hollywood version of the Oval Office as images flash of unmarried women. "Come on. Who do you want in here? You decide," she says.
"Twenty million haven't been voting at all," says Sarah Paulson, an actress on "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip." "We can change that."
The group has linked a voter registration tool to the ad, so that anyone who views it on the Web gets automatically sent to a voter registration page.
Gardner said, in coming weeks, the group will also be active on Facebook, reaching out to young, unmarried voters.
In connection with the ad launch, Hollywood actress Christine Lahti — who campaigned for Democratic nominee John Kerry in the 2004 election — wrote an Op-Ed, published Sunday on Yahoo.com and the Huffington Post.
"The truth is, these 20 million women have become the Holy Grail for both parties," she wrote.
The leading Democratic presidential candidates take the trend seriously, and most have put an effort into wooing women voters who will represent anywhere from 54 percent to 60 percent of the electorate in 2008.
"My goal is to increase the women's vote and make sure these single women voters, who know about Hillary's positions, get out and vote for her," said Clinton's senior advisor Ann Lewis, who leads a women's outreach effort for the Clinton campaign.
The campaign pays particularly close attention to women voters, e-mailing updates, called "HillGrams," to influential women, and holding "Club44" low-dollar fundraising events to attract younger women.
"She has a big political advantage rooted in her leadership over the years, on issues that are of particular interest and concern to women," Lewis said, citing Clinton's position on equal pay, access to emergency contraception, health care and her advocacy for women's rights, at the women's conference in Beijing, as first lady.
Lewis said the campaign will dispatch female volunteers to key primary states, before the caucus and primary elections, to woo women voters.
"But right now, we're at the stage of building our networks, building our lists, and encouraging our supporters [to] reach out and building a peer-to-peer network," Lewis said.
Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, Clinton's Democratic rival, is also making women's outreach a component of his campaign. His wife has held women's lunches in South Carolina, and has spoken on his behalf to women's groups.
Emily's List, a political action organization, committed to electing women for abortion rights, plans a major mobilization effort, targeting women in the lead-up to the primary elections, in an effort to persuade them to vote for Clinton.
The influential PAC plans to reach out to women in primary states with door-to-door visits, Internet e-mails, mailings and telephone calls.
It is launching a Web site Nov. 19, designed to mobilize Iowa women to vote for Clinton — and will specifically target young women and women who have never voted in a caucus before.
"We are going to reach out to the women of Iowa," said Maren Hesla, director of the Emily's List Women Vote program that focuses on mobilizing women to vote for Democratic women candidates who are for abortion rights, up and down the ballot.
Hesla said the new Web site will feature Iowa women talking to women about Clinton's candidacy, will have links to social networking sites and will offer basic information, like where caucuses will be located in Iowa, Jan. 3.
She said the group may also send out paid staffers to campaign on the ground in Iowa, and go door-to-door to mobilize Iowa women voters.
"When women hear about politics from other women, they are more likely to actually vote for the candidate," Hesla said.
The influential women's group also plans to roll out a huge, paid advertising campaign, though they won't divulge how much they intend to spend.
"It will be substantial, and you won't be able to escape it," Hesla added.
Gardner said unmarried women, as a demographic, will continue to grow.
Census data reflect a national trend of delaying marriage, with both women and men waiting longer to marry, and an increasing number of couples opting to live together, rather than marry.
But what is less clear is whether unmarried women will turn out to vote. If they do, the trend could be a political boon in 2008 for the Democratic Party.
"These women are excited about this election," Gardner said.
Gardner added that most women are not attuned to the recent debate over whether the Clinton campaign is playing the "gender card," by highlighting the "pile on" attack she's receiving from both Republican and Democratic candidates.
"These are not people who enjoy the back and forth, in terms of the negative aspects of the campaign," she said. "They are highly motivated in this election about the issues — economic mobility, health care, and Iraq — and they are attracted to the idea of change."