In the Clinton years, the target was soccer moms. In the Bush era, it switched to NASCAR dads. Now, say several senior campaign strategists, the magic pop demographic that could affect the ’08 election, and especially the Democratic primaries, is unmarried women. She’s youngish (for the most part, between 18 and 44), white (64 percent), unanchored (36 percent move every two years), unaffluent (earning $30,000 or less a year), relatively uneducated (only 14 percent are college grads), and thoroughly pissed off about the direction of America (Iraq, health care, equal pay, and education are top issues). But she isn’t exactly politically engaged. “I think the better way to define them is SAFs,” says Ann Lewis, a longtime senior adviser to Hillary Clinton. “Single anxious females.”
These SAFs are everywhere. According to the most recent Census data, 22 percent of the voting-age public are never-married women. Once deemed by pollsters to be a politically inconsequential voting block—marriage has always been a top social factor that controls voting—single women are slowly starting to turn out. In the 2000 general election, for instance, the number of unmarried women voting was 19 percent. In 2004, that number jumped to 22.4 percent, and it’s expected to vault higher in 2008.
Who are these SAFs? According to a new study by the nonprofit Women’s Voices: Women Vote, that will be released next month, unmarried women watch 4.22 hours of TV every day (TNT and Discovery are favorites), rarely listen to talk radio (they prefer country music), and they tend to vote for change. “The word is, this is the fastest-growing population for these campaigns to grab,” says Betsy Myers, who launched the White House Office for Women’s Initiatives and Outreach during Bill Clinton’s presidency and is now the COO of Barack Obama’s campaign. “This is kind of a new concept,” she says, of the SAFs. “I lived through the whole soccer-mom thing. It’s an interesting demographic people are starting to talk about.” So far, Obama has yet to micro-target them. “We haven’t peeled that onion yet,” says Myers. Hillary, meanwhile, has held press events for “women on their own” in New Hampshire, Iowa, South Carolina, and Nevada.