By Betsy Hart | Scripps Howard News Service
The Sisterhood spoke last Tuesday, and exit polls show that it was clearly a big part of President Barack Obama's win. In particular, single women voted overwhelmingly for him, by a 2-to-1 margin. In contrast, married women supported Mitt Romney, though only by 7 percentage points over Obama (53 to 46 percent). The margins are such that, overall, women went for the president.
Because of the numbers at stake -- women typically vote at higher rates than men do -- had Romney been able to peel off just some of these percentage points, he would have won.
Many of my colleagues have pointed out that Obama worked hard to scare women into falsely believing they were going to have their birth control taken away. Women, I'm embarrassed to say, bought it. But it's more important to understand the much deeper issue -- that many unmarried women are likely looking to the government to be a "husband" of sorts to them, to provide for and protect them.
Just before the mid-term elections of 2010, having looked at exit-poll data from several previous election cycles that showed overwhelming support for Democrats from single women, I wrote:
"When we (women) don't have a husband, we pretty naturally look for a fallback for all kinds of protection and support. Enter Uncle Sam?"
The answer is, well, yes. So, unfortunately from my point of view, it appears that I was vindicated Tuesday night. By the way, single women are far more likely to be Democrats than single men, which makes this understanding of why single women vote the way they do even more credible. Also telling? Up until 1964, which was right about the time we began experimenting with public policies and cultural trends that would dissolve the family in subsequent decades, women as a whole were more likely to vote Republican than were men.
Sure enough, the first real gender gap showed up only in 1984. That year, a majority of all women voted for Ronald Reagan for president, just at lower rates than men. The trend continued, and by 1992, women as a group were voting Democratic. Still today, even though married women as a whole support Republicans, single women support Democrats by such a large margin as to statistically make our gender go to the Democratic camp.
Now, of course, comes the question: What can Republicans do? A return to a marriage-based culture is the path I would embrace most, as its benefits for women and children, never mind the electorate overall, would be profound. But, unfortunately, this doesn't seem likely anytime soon.
The more immediate hope may be that as younger single women become more economically secure -- and there is no doubt that is happening as such women today on average out-earn their male peers -- there is a hope for change. These women may well want to start keeping more of their own paychecks rather than turning them over to a ne'er-do-well husband like Uncle Sam.
Convincing these women to get rid of the lout may be the only real way to turn around this current electoral trend.
So, as Republicans lick their wounds and consider what to do next, they need to first understand why it is that single women vote so overwhelmingly Democratic in the first place.
I don't know about the right language to use when approaching the Sisterhood on this. But for all those single women looking to Uncle Sam to be a stand-in husband, there's just got to be a way to convince at least some of them that this is one case in which divorce is called for.
(Betsy Hart's latest book is "From The Hart: A Collection of Favorite Columns on Love, Loss, Marriage (and Other Extreme Sports)." Reach her through hartmailbox-mycolumnyahoo.com. For more stories, visit scrippsnews.com.)