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Dem Focus on Unmarried Voters Ducks Their Problem

By Peter Brown

There they go again.

Democrats lost the 2004 presidential election even though they met the party's goal of turning out more of their targeted voters.

Now they have decided to target a new demographic group. But, that group is made up of mostly the same people they have focused on over the years during which they lost their grip on the nation's political power.

Their new target: unmarried people, especially single women.

One can surely understand the Democrats' frustration.

But the party whizzes pushing this latest strategy might want to step back and think about what they are doing.

Again.

In the last 40 years, Republicans have won seven of the past 10 presidential elections. They have held control of Congress for most of the past decade.

Every four years, it seems, the Democratic establishment finds another way to explain why they have lost without conceding the obvious.

They are unable to win enough votes from the largest demographic group -- white, mostly middle-class, voters to get over the top.

John Kerry won about 41 percent of white votes in 2004, broke even among voters with family incomes of $30,000-$50,000 and got just 44 percent of those with incomes of $50,000-$100,000.

This is a 40-year pattern, which has led Democrats to seek a way around, rather than to confront, their problem with Middle America.

In the 1970's, the Democrats courted the counter-culture.

In the 1980s the push was among African-Americans. Jesse Jackson's two runs for the White House, Democrats hoped, would spur an outpouring of black voters.

In the 1990s, the gender gap was the rage, and in fact Bill Clinton's presidencies were fueled disproportionately by women voters.

In 2004, their focus was on young voters who would be so put off by the Iraq war they would turn out in droves to throw W out of office.

It didn't happen.

Bush was re-elected, even though more young people voted. But the Democratic turnout effort created a climate in which the Republicans energized even more of their troops.

Now, Democratic strategists have settled on unmarried voters for 2006 and 2008.

Women's Voices has produced an 80-plus page report being embraced throughout the party that correctly notes that unmarried people are less likely to vote than their married counterparts. In 2004, Bush carried the 63 percent of voters who were married by a 57-42 percent margin. He lost among the 37 percent who were single by 58-40 percent.

It goes into great detail about how unmarried people are likely to be poorer and more alienated than their married counterparts - with the obvious implication that these are prime Democratic targets.

And, no doubt they are, except for a big chunk of the group, single white men, who are probably the most Republican of all demographic groups.

But the vast, vast majority of the rest fit the profile of Democratic voters. They are either female or racial minorities or low income, or all three.

As members of those other subgroups, they have been previously targeted by past Democratic efforts.

The Democrats need to go after the group with whom they have not been connecting - the white middle class.

No Democratic presidential candidate since Lyndon Johnson has won a majority of white voters. Yet even in an increasingly diverse America, and despite increasing voting participation by minorities, whites were still 77 percent of 2004 voters.

Democrats, who see themselves as looking out for the little guy, have sought a way around that problem without directly addressing the reality that "Jill and Joe Six-pack" have moved to the suburbs and become middle class.

Now, George W. Bush' poll numbers are abysmal and it is easy for Democrats to be against anything he favors.

But W won't be in the 2008 ballot.

And come that November, the election will likely be decided by mostly white, middle-class voters. Most are married, many are not.

To be sure, Democrats can marginally help themselves by increasing turnout among those who fit their voting profile. But after all these years one might think they would want to deal with the real root of their problem.

That is certainly easier said than done. But it is probably also a lot more productive than having pep rallies about turning out most of the same folks they've been trying to get to the polls for decades.

Peter A. Brown is assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. He can be reached at peter.brown@quinnipiac.edu

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