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Blame All the Single Ladies

Some pundits on the right have decided that unmarried women are at fault for the GOP’s electoral dysfunction.
November 14, 2022
Blame All the Single Ladies
DENVER, CO - NOVEMBER 08: A woman votes at the Denver Botanical Gardens on November 8, 2022 in Denver, Colorado. After months of candidates campaigning, Americans are voting in the midterm elections to decide close races across the nation. (Photo by Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images)

Republican politicians and conservative pundits are pointing fingers to assign blame for the red wave that wasn’t. “Orange Man bad” may not provide a complete explanation for the GOP’s worse-than-expected performance last week, but at least it tries to grapple with the party’s Donald Trump addiction. The lackluster (or downright looney) candidates are getting less blame than they deserve. There’s shakier reasoning in the cases against some other culprits, such as South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, although it’s fair to say that Graham’s attempt to push a national bill restricting abortion may have contributed to the electoral outcome. In any case, even that explanation for the election results is better than dropping innuendo about “ballot harvesting.”

Some in the right-wing commentariat have found, as it were, a sexier target: single ladies who vote.

The spinster bashfest was occasioned by the networks’ national exit poll, which shows a striking demographic pattern:

You can easily find reactions by doing a Twitter search for the phrase “unmarried women,” but in case you (understandably) would prefer not to, here’s a sampling.

From Federalist contributor Inez Stepman:

From 20-year-old “Prager U personality” C.J. Pearson:

From ex-Pizzagater-turned-Human Events senior editor Jack Posobiec:

And a viral “worst take” contender from Babylon Bee managing editor Joel Berry:

The Daily Caller weighed in with a headline lamenting, “Are lonely wine Karens ruining our country?” And Fox News host Jesse Watters discovered another terrible problem: It’s bad enough that all those liberal single women vote, but they’re also working as teachers and poisoning the minds of impressionable kiddies. (Actually, as of 2006, the most recent year for which data is available, nearly three quarters of public school teachers were married—a higher figure than in 1961, when cultural expectations that women would stop working after getting married and especially after having children were still strong. But please don’t confuse Watters with the facts.)

Fox News Host: Get Single Women Married So They Vote Republican

Surprisingly, there were few mentions of cats. But the Daily Caller did helpfully recall the observation made by Ohio Senator-elect J.D. Vance in July 2021 that “we are effectively run in this country—via the Democrats, via our corporate oligarchs—by a bunch of childless cat ladies who are miserable at their own lives and the choices that they’ve made, and so they want to make the rest of the country miserable too.”

I suppose a disclaimer is in order: I’m a single, childless woman, albeit with no cats. Apparently like most of my demographic cohort, I’m a pretty happy person. (For the record, never-married women are less likely than married women to use antidepressants.) If Joel Berry’s tweet purporting to describe unmarried women in America were a questionnaire, I’d be checking “no” on every item.

While I don’t know how accurate the 2022 exit poll (conducted by Edison Research) is—particularly for measuring gaps between subgroups—there is plenty of evidence from past years that single women as a group skew heavily Democratic, much more so than any other sex-by-marital-status category.

The reasons are many and complicated, and have little to do with the Stepman/Berry/Vance caricature. It would be interesting, for one, to further break down the results by race and ethnicity. Black women are less likely to be married than white women by 30 percentage points (32 percent vs. 62 percent in 2018), and they vote Democratic even more reliably than black men. Comparisons between single women and single men are also affected by the fact that for some time now, women have been more likely than men to attend college, another key predictor of voting Democratic. By 2019, 33 percent of single women but only 26 percent of single men had completed at least a bachelor’s degree. (Obviously, education is not the sole determining factor, since married women are even more likely to have a bachelor’s degree, at 43 percent.) Single women are also the lowest-earning marital demographic, and lower-income voters are more likely to vote for Democrats.

But obviously, this year, the gender gap—particularly stark among singles—has also been driven by the backlash against Dobbs and anti-abortion legislation in many red states. Contrary to the “all they want is the right to kill their babies” rhetoric, women for whom abortion is the dominant issue tend to frame it not as a matter of their own right to get an abortion but as a “war on women” in which abortion opponents are motivated primarily by fear and hatred of female autonomy. I believe, despite being pro-choice, that this is far too simplistic an interpretation of right-to-life advocacy. But when conservatives respond to unfavorable election results with imprecations against single women and start to echo the more fetid corners of the online “manosphere” with slurs about “cat ladies,” it doesn’t exactly do a lot to rebut the charge that the right’s real agenda is to restore patriarchy and bring those pesky independent females to heel. “It’s the misogyny, stupid” is a message that comes through loud and clear. (In fairness, Berry followed up with an equally obnoxious slam on unmarried men, but only when challenged on the subject.)

There’s another obvious reason the right would do well to knock it off with the single-woman-bashing: Trashing a group of voters for not voting your way is not a great way to bring them over to your side. Hillary Clinton took a lot of heat in 2016 for referring to Trump’s base as “a basket of deplorables,” even though she never applied the term to an entire demographic, only to an estimated half of hardcore Trump supporters. I also recall a lot of “Yeah, way to win them over” snark directed at the progressive bashing of white women after 53 percent of them voted for Trump. Yet here we have an entire demographic being not only mocked and insulted but accused of ruining America. Come for the misogyny, stay for the demonization of political opponents. Or vice versa.

There’s plenty of room for serious discussion of the dynamics of politics and gender in the United States today. It’s not just about abortion, and it’s not entirely healthy on the Democratic side, either; in an election less favorable to Democrats, the gender gap can easily turn against them, and too much progressive messaging seems to suggest that the party stands for everyone-but-white-males. There is something uniquely toxic about political polarization along gender lines. But right now, the Republican messaging is pushing gender polarization in a particularly blatant and toxic way.

Cathy Young

Cathy Young is a writer at The Bulwark, a columnist for Newsday, and a contributing editor to Reason. Twitter: @CathyYoung63.