Why did single women vote for Democrats? Republicans have a foolish theory
Josh Hawley. (Photo: Screen capture)
After the heavily predicted "red wave" in the 2022 midterm elections turned out to be an illusion, it was really no mystery why Republicans failed to capitalize on the political tailwinds that — according to conventional wisdom and political history — should have given them much bigger wins. Blame Donald Trump and Justice Samuel Alito, for the one-two punch of inciting an insurrection (which was wildly unpopular) and overturning the right to abortion (which was highly popular). Americans, it turns out, are protective of democracy and their basic human rights and turned out in huge numbers to vote for Democrats or, more precisely, to vote against Republicans, who are a threat to both. The smart thing for Republicans to do is clear enough: Stop stoking Trump's election lies and scale back the tsunami of racism, sexism and homophobia currently fueling their party.

But there's no chance that will happen, of course. Let's remember that Republicans also flirted with moderating their message after losing the 2012 election, only to go in precisely the opposite direction by nominating Donald Trump in 2016. Looking inward and engaging in self-reflection is the antithesis of everything the modern GOP stands for. So instead, the right is looking outward for someone besides themselves to blame, and they've landed on a favorite scapegoat: Single women. Worse, in blaming single women for their own political failure, conservatives are wallowing in a ludicrous conspiracy theory based on the premise that having an "F" on your driver's license renders you incapable of autonomous thought.

Yes, it's true: Republicans are big mad that single women voted for Democrats, and their explanation for this is that Democrats of brainwashing those hapless, unfortunate women who don't have husbands to make their decisions for them.

"Unmarried women in America are lost, miserable, addicted to SSRIs and alcohol, wracked with guilt from abortion, and wandering from partner to partner," wrote Joel Berry, managing editor of the popular right wing site Babylon Bee. "They are the Democrats' core base now, and the Democrats will do everything possible to manufacture more of them."

Mollie Hemingway, the editor-in-chief of The Federalist, was less colorful in her language, but nonetheless aired a similar claim about "the massive political incentive Democrats have to keep women unmarried."

"No one benefits more from the destruction of the American family than the Democratic Party," announced a headline at the right-wing Washington Examiner.

Andrew Torba, who runs the far-right social media site Gab, sent out a newsletter declaring that democracy is illegitimate because "the Godless unmarried whores of Babylon select your leaders so they can continue to slaughter their children."

Fox News host Jesse Watters, in the most viral example of this talking point, said that "Democrat policies are designed to keep women single" and implored male viewers to get the ladies under control: "Guys, go put a ring on it." How male Fox News viewers are supposed to talk these unruly Democratic-voting women into marrying them was left unexplained, although Watters has previously hinted at the usefulness of coercion when it comes to romance.

While Republican politicians have generally been a bit more circumspect in their language, Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri tipped his hand on a not-that-subtle endorsement of this conspiracy theory, retweeting conservative sociologist Brad Wilcox — who prominently drew attention to single women's Democratic leanings — complaining that "fewer adults are opening their hearts, lives, and minds to marriage and children."

These accusations that Democrats are somehow preventing women from getting hitched are deliberately vague on the mechanics. Are Democrats crashing weddings and intervening when the officiant asks if anyone has cause to object? Are they rewriting dating-app software so liberal-leaning women only see video-game addicts who refuse to leave the house? Have they forced every eligible man to leave the country?

If you dig into the comments under these angry right-wing tweets, the outlines of the conspiracy theory these commentators are hinting at become a bit clearer. Reproductive rights, equal access to education and social welfare policies (which are always more generous in the right-wing imagination than in real life) are routinely blamed for somehow tricking women out of marriage. The idea is that Democrats use basic human rights to lure gullible young women away from their true destiny and most cherished desire, which is of course to be the doting helpmeet to a Republican dude. Democrats, the idea goes, get women hooked on a sinister cocktail of equality and freedom, and therefore hopelessly addicted to voting for Democrats.

In the real world, of course, what's going on is painfully simple. Single women are a constituency that benefits enormously from equal pay, equal education and reproductive rights. (Married women benefit from these things, too, but a lot of them are cross-pressured to keep the peace with Republican husbands, and/or are voting their resentments toward their single counterparts.) Understanding that they have a built-in advantage with single women, Democrats have constructed a platform designed to appeal to them.

When Republicans talk about "incentivizing" marriage, what they really mean is coercion: stripping women of reproductive rights and economic equality, to create a society where women feel they have to get married to survive.

But accepting that straightforward narrative means accepting the radical notion that women have minds of their own. That will clearly never do in the GOP universe. So a nefarious and unnecessarily complicated conspiracy theory must be created that reimagines basic constituent appeal as manipulation and brainwashing.

As with most accusations made by Republicans, the claims that Democrats somehow "control" women are pure psychological projection. It's pretty obvious that Republicans are the ones who want to control women, and when they start talking about "incentivizing" marriage, what they really mean is various forms of coercion. Stripping women of reproductive rights and economic equality is about trying to create a society where women feel they have to get married in order to survive, or at least to have any financial security. As a not-so-hidden bonus, a woman who is financially dependent on her husband is likely to feel even less room to disagree with him politically or vote her own conscience.

In fact, the theory that Democrats are brainwashing women into staying single is directly linked to the "great replacement" conspiracy theory, a white supremacist fiction proposing that liberal "elites" are somehow "importing" people of color to "replace" white conservatives. In both cases, the presumption that people who are not white men are lesser beings, incapable of independent thought.

As with the Big Lie, this is all about Republicans telling themselves that entire groups of Americans are not legitimate voters or citizens, and don't deserve a say in government. Conservatives' bitter retreat into this conspiracy theory after their disappointing midterm results strongly suggests that the Republican Party has no inclination to moderate anything about its policies or messaging. Instead, we can expect the right to double down on the fascistic assumption that people like them are the only real Americans, and nobody else gets to vote.