In a prior post I noted a little noticed survey conducted by Gallup about a month before the election. It showed singles overwhelmingly supporting Obama and married men and women backing Romney. In the end exit polls showed married couples backed Romney 56%-42% but singles went for Obama by a 62%-35% margin and among single women Obama won by an eye-popping 67%-31%. The GOP has focused a lot on what it needs to do to attract Hispanics and other minorities to the party. However, they would also be smart to consider how to talk to young, single women that live in urban areas and have very liberal social views yet can lean to the right on fiscal issues (see 2010 exit polls).
Most of the reporting of this result has likely been overstated. According to the 2010 census there are more single women among Hispanics and blacks. These groups went overwhelmingly for Obama meaning that Romney likely did better with single white men and women. So in truth it is likely that the GOP’s issues with single women and men are tied to their struggles with minorities in general. However, it cannot be overlooked in this election that Obama’s campaign completely outworked Romney’s campaign in reaching these voters.
Singles have never backed a Republican candidate for President since 1992. Many credit Bill Clinton with turning young, single voters to the Democratic Party with a socially moderate and fiscally conservative message. George Bush in 2004 did the best with these voters for any Republican since 1992, though this can likely be credited to his strong showing among Hispanics. In 2008 Obama gobbled up these voters in the Democratic Primary and never looked back. In 2012 his young, diverse coalition held together long enough to get him reelected.
Many of these young, diverse single voters are scattered in the major metropolitan areas of the country. However, they also have trended to move to the suburbs and have likely helped make these places bluer than ever before. In Pennsylvania for example, Romney won only one of the four suburban counties surrounding Philly (Chester). Obama won three (Bucks, Delaware and Montgomery). In Virginia Obama won the big DC suburban counties of Prince William, Fairfax and Loundon counties. Even in North Carolina which Romney carried the only suburbs he won were those around Charlotte in the Southwestern region of the state.
It certainly did not help Republicans this cycle when Senate candidates like Richard Murdock (IN) and Todd Akin (MO) brought emotionally fueled comments about rape into the campaign discussion. Romney’s campaign could never distance itself from these comments and Obama’s team skillfully used it to point out to singles how out of touch and crazy the GOP was. Obama’s campaign hit Romney hard on his goal to repeal Roe vs. Wade and Romney’s campaign never had a good response to the allegations. Eventually they faded into the campaign background but the damage was done.
For Republicans singles remain a major issue. The party is socially right-wing yet many of these voters are left-wing on social issues. On fiscal issues singles seem to favor some elements of fiscal conservatism but they also favor a social safety net the GOP thinks needs to be shrunk. In 2010 (as mentioned above) the GOP won many singles on angst about the economy but in places such as Colorado and Nevada Democrats used social issues to win close elections.
Republican strategists continue to claim that these voters can still be lured to the GOP on fiscal issues. But that is unlikely to be enough. Former Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels perhaps foresaw the results of this election when he famously said “We need a truce on social issues.” That message did not play well in first in the nation caucus in Iowa. Yet, when it came down to it he was probably right. While many men focused on the economy as the top issue women said social issues topped their priorities.
For the GOP there does not seem to be a magic bullet to fix their issues with these voters. Instead, it seems the best the GOP can hope for in the immediate future is a slight improvement with these voters. However, if the GOP can find new ways to appeal to minorities their numbers with singles are likely to improve. Until that time though the GOP will continuously have a narrow margin of error in winning the White House and a majority in the Senate (redistricting likely ensures them a House majority until 2020 minus a wave election).