The “Sex and the City” Voter

By Caitlin Mock

I recently read an article published after the 2004 campaign examining the effect of the so called “sex and the city” voter. Project Muse discussed the importance of the young woman vote and how many of the political strategists in 2004 were eager to attract and lure in these young women. Women have always been a major force in U.S. politics through history and I would argue that many more decisions are being made by women behind the scenes then are actually credited. 

In 2004, the “Sex and the City” voter was targeted as a single, white, professional and fashion forward figure. These women were shown more as consumers than citizens and their sex appeal was played up.

 Exit polls from 2004 show that 23% of unmarried women showed up to vote, up from 19% in 2000. However, Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research Inc. says that unmarried women remain the largest demographic group underrepresented at the polls. 

The editor in chief of Ms. Magazine said that this generation of women is well understood by marketers but completely misunderstood by politicians and I think this goes both ways. My closest friends are all in their low to mid twenties, all single and all completely apathetic and confused about politics. My male friends seem to embrace the competition in the political sphere more while women seem to be searching for a common ground so they don’t feel so alienated and turned off by negativity. My female friends get marketing, however. So it makes perfect sense that in 2004 voting was being sold to single women like a sexy pair of heels. In fact, the cover of Newsweek in 2004 showed four people’s lower torsos cut off by the voting machine curtain and the young woman was easily identified by the tight skirt, sleek legs and bright pink heels. I couldn’t find a picture of this cover but I’d imagine most of you can recall what I’m talking about. 

Another part of the article that I found interesting was in the description of this third wave of feminism. It’s almost anti-feminine because it isn’t focused on collective action. They describe these sex and the city voters as being completely alone in their political practice. Politics is a lifestyle decision but only for a season and even though political awareness was a must have item it was almost so special you kept it under wraps. It reminded me of being really excited about a new pair of shoes but also hesitant to wear them in case it rained. 

My question is what was the must have demographic for 2008? I didn’t hear anything about the sex and the city voter until after the election this year. I think this was definitely an election about personalities and with all the notion of celebrity, and in fact the many ads produced by and featuring young, mostly single, mostly white, celebrities urging people to get out the vote, I am surprised the sex and the city voter wasn’t mentioned more often. In 2007 there was an article published about the importance of single women but by the time election season really began it seems to have been traded out for the hockey mom and security mom and all the joes; sixpack, Biden and the Plumber. 

Single women did favor Obama however they just seemed to be less of a target or force to be reckoned with than in 2004. I hate that single women are often depicted in these strategies as sexually available and just seeking affection from their elected officials. Do most single women live in a world mostly about women? Yes, I’d admit it. But if that’s the case then it’s even more important for women to become involved in the political process. With issues like reproductive rights being used as a right left bargaining chip every election cycle it is way too important to sit on the political sidelines.

We continue to show up more and more each election cycle and I hope that we will show up again in 2012 even if we aren’t as disgusted by the last four years. Please ladies, discuss politics. If you have to do it wearing heels and drinking cosmos more power to you. As Rebecca Traister of Salon.com said, “The secret isn’t to be a woman. The secret is don’t be a moron.”

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “The “Sex and the City” Voter

  1. Tony Robinson

    Very interesting post Caitlin. I enjoyed the humorous video with all the women talking about when the first “did it” (vote), including their talk about they researched the various positions that they most liked before they did it. Silly, but captivating. Also, I watched the Nixon clip. Thanks for those links.

    I am very intrigued by your observation that single women, although they are growing as a share of the electorate, didn’t really get much attention this election–rather, all the Joes took center stage (as you put it)–joe sixpack, joe the plumber, joe biden…

    What’s up with that, you ask? What’s up, indeed? How is it in a year with Hillary and Sarah that the women voter was not more front and center? Young voters, black voters, latino voters, and independent voters all received far more press coverage and analysis than women voters, if my impressionistic sense is correct. A question to reflect on…

  2. Melissa

    I think it is very interesting how when attempting to get the female vote, they have to turn to sex appeal to try and get the vote out. Although the ads are very funny, it makes me a little sad that they can’t just discuss the issues to get women interested in voting. I really enjoyed your statement of how political awareness was a “must have item”, and “It reminded me of being really excited about a new pair of shoes but also hesitant to wear them in case it rained.” Politics does seem to have its years where it is “in” to be involved with them.
    I have to agree with you that this year the young women’s vote definitely did not get nearly as much attention as in the previous election. It is unfortunate as I hope that women continue to get involved in politics.

  3. ilasiea

    Nice post! I hadn’t really thought about the “Sex and the City” and/or single women voters (which is pretty much your point; no one has! haha). I was more focused on the youth vote and African-American vote because those both represent me. However, so do the young single women. I wonder why it is that we are underestimated. I personally don’t think it completely has to do with being uneducated about politics. This is one of those things to think about…

  4. Matthew Wolf

    Funny how it all comes down to shoes. Or does it?

    You can make a pretty good case that single women were not overlooked by Obama, only the press. Conversely, you didn’t hear the President-elect talking about Millennials; though the press surely did.

    Single women are the largest and fastest growing demographic. They now outnumber married women, represent 45% of Millennials, and made up 39% of new voters in the 2004 general election. They turned out in larger numbers in the 2006 midterm elections and, if the 2008 primaries are an indicator of their strength in the 2008 general election, they continued to vote in even larger numbers; overwhelmingly for Obama.

    But the “Sex and the City” identity doesn’t really describe them as well as it once might have. Since the 1970s, when single women were split evenly between middle class and working class, the average single woman has become increasingly less affluent.

    I wonder if Obama’s basic platform didn’t largely acknowledge this, and if needy single women didn’t vote in record numbers because they were attracted to Obama’s policy. The average single woman is trying to provide food, clothing, shelter, healthcare, and education for themselves, and in many cases, one or more children, on pay that continues to show a differential with that of men and is not keeping up with inflation.

    Do you think Obama’s comment to Joe the Plumber about sharing the wealth was a slip of the tongue, or a calculated statement? Seventy percent of single women, the largest single demographic, voted for him.

    I hope he can deliver. And don’t get me wrong, I still love your shoes.

  5. Sarah Popp

    I did think that it was interesting that the importance of young women voters was not discussed often during the election. I don’t think I heard “The Sex and the City Voter” at all. Joe the Plumber (ugh) types got most of the attention. I agree with Melissa that it is sad that ads targeting young women voters are like the one talking about the first time “doing it.”

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