The November 5th race for governor was unexpectedly close – Virginia NOW-endorsed Terry McAuliffe beat Tea Party favorite Ken Cuccinelli by just 3 points. The pro-choice women’s vote was critical to McAuliffe’s victory. He won the votes of 67% of unmarried women while Cuccinelli received just 25% of those votes – that’s an astonishing 42-point gender gap. McAuliffe also beat Cuccinelli by 25 points among unmarried men. (Another interesting fact for politicians: about one-third of voters were unmarried and single women comprised 18% of voters.)
Virginia NOW is proud that our postcard campaign contributed to the McAuliffe victory. We wanted to help get women to the polls and we exceeded even our expectations. 25,000 postcards were mailed to Democratic women ages 25-40 across the state – women who, because of work and family obligations, may not have voted this year. We knew they HAD to vote in order for pro-women candidates to win.
Our message was simple: “Vote…Because Women’s Votes Will Decide the Future.” We urged them to vote for candidates “who trust women and will safeguard our rights” – McAuliffe, Ralph Northam for lt. governor and Mark Herring for attorney general. The response was phenomenal! Postcard parties were held across the state (see photos below). After hearing hundreds of negative ads, women appreciated our positive message. All three candidates won.
Overall, exit polls showed McAuliffe won women by 9 points, the same margin President Obama won by in the presidential election last year. Unmarried women overwhelmingly rejected Cuccinelli for his extreme positions battling abortion, threatening contraception, refusing to support funding against domestic violence, and trying to make divorce harder to get. He tried for most of the campaign to mislead voters by downplaying his extreme social agenda, but ultimately, he couldn’t hide from his long record of attacking women’s reproductive health care and women’s rights.
These issues did not resonate to the same extent with married women. Among married women, Cuccinelli had a 9-point lead. Among married men, he had a 6-point lead. We are working with allies in the social justice community to determine how better to communicate with married women in Virginia.
Cuccinelli beat McAuliffe among voters who said the economy was the most important issue and among those who named health care as the biggest priority. But, among those who said abortion was their most important voting issue — roughly one in five voters — McAuliffe crushed Cuccinelli by close to a two-to-one margin, according to The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza. Cillizza wrote November 6:
Half of Virginia voters said that Cuccinelli’s position on issues was “too conservative,” while fewer than four in 10 said he was “about right” on the issues. What those numbers tell us is that McAuliffe’s efforts — primarily through a blitz of campaign ads in northern Virginia — to paint Cuccinelli as a warrior for the social conservative movement worked. Even though “economy” and “health care” voters sided with Cuccinelli, it wasn’t by anywhere close to a large enough margin to offset his losses among voters who prized social issues.
This election shows clearly that abortion and birth control are critical to single women and cannot be dismissed or downplayed as “social issues” that are negotiable. Politicians who ignore single women’s interests will lose their vote.
Virginia NOW is working with other women’s and social justice groups to gather more data about how to motivate women to vote for progressive, pro-choice candidates.
Marjorie Signer, Co-Chair, Virginia NOW PAC