Care Is About Democracy—And It Wins at the Ballot Box

Because of women, care has become a top concern among voters and a unifier across gender, race and party identification.

A young girl observes as her guardian shows her the voting process on Super Tuesday, March 5, 2024, in Charlotte, N.C. (Grant Baldwin / Getty Images)

Every night, at kitchen tables around the country, families talk about care. Will their childcare center close when funding runs out? Who can take the day off from work to be with mom in the hospital when she gets her hip replacement? And who will take care of her when she comes home? The answer to these questions is usually women

In this historically consequential year for our democracy, it is time that we champion the women in our lives—and caregivers of all genders, like the men in my own family—who are dedicated caregivers to loved ones. Because as it turns out, championing care policies not only supports families, it also wins at the ballot box—and advances democracy.

Currently, the United States is one of the only countries in the world without federally paid family and medical leave policy. Most families face limited options for affordable care—especially in rural areas, where two-thirds live in a childcare desert. People with disabilities also suffer from an ineffective system that leaves on average 700,000 on waiting lists each year for Medicaid home and community-based services. 

Our country’s inadequate policies on care make it difficult for women to stay in jobs, move up career ladders and save for the future. At the same time, the workers who provide essential care and personal support to children, older adults and people with disabilities are among the lowest paid in our economy. They too are predominantly women, and are disproportionately women of color and immigrants.

To address the gap between the care families need and the dignified jobs care workers deserve, a movement has emerged like never before, building power and political muscle to demand bold public investments. As a long-time funder of this work, I’ve been inspired by the state and federal victories the care movement has achieved over the past three decades because of the organizing power of women—and want to ensure this model is amplified and becomes even stronger.  

Because of women, care has become a top concern among voters and a unifier across gender, race and party identification. In fact, the care agenda uniquely motivates the progressive base, while also appealing strongly to independents and people across urban/rural, age and education divides. And care issues are most powerful as a motivator for civic engagement when linked with other top priorities for voters—including reproductive rights, tax equity and kitchen table economics. 

A recent survey of voters shows that people are much more likely to vote for a candidate who pledges to address both access to abortion and paid family, parental and medical leave. Indeed, talking about care in connection with reproductive rights is more motivating to voters than discussing reproductive rights as a single issue.

Similarly, when voters hear that increasing taxes on the wealthiest individuals and corporations will enable us to fund care policies, their support for tax equity jumps up by 11 points. 

Messages like these resonate because care issues are interconnected and intersectional. Voters understand, often from lived experience, that reliable paid leave and job protection will help people caring for their loved ones. They understand that affordable childcare and home care will reduce the financial impact on families and eliminate forced unfair career choices. While voters who have experienced caregiving can understand this more clearly than perhaps anyone, even those who have not can empathize.

Early voting, longer polling hours and vote-by-mail are reforms that make it much easier for people caring for children and older adults and family members with disabilities to vote.

In 2022, New Mexico made national headlines for being the first state to guarantee a right to early childhood education through a direct democracy initiative—a constitutional amendment approved by 70 percent of voters. Care is not partisan, but rather an issue deeply tied to the strength of our communities and our democracy.   

The strength of civic life is determined largely by the extent that different social groups have access to participate in our democratic institutions. In this way, the fate of our democracy is inextricably bound to the fate of the care movement: Attention to the care needs of voters—especially people with disabilities and family caregivers—is essential to ensuring they can exercise their right to cast a ballot and participate in the body politic. 

Early voting, longer polling hours and vote-by-mail are reforms that make it much easier for people caring for children and older adults and family members with disabilities to vote. People with disabilities face some of the greatest barriers to voting, from inaccessible polling places to onerous restrictions on mail and absentee voting. Some states even criminalize caregivers who help loved ones with disabilities cast their ballot. These issues are championed by the care movement – and need to be recognized as mobilization for democracy itself.

With the United States experiencing more and more strategic manipulation of our elections, full-throated investment in care is critical. Currently, a handful of devoted foundations, many of whom are formal partners of the CARE Fund, which I lead, support critical movement building and policy advocacy. But current funding levels aren’t nearly enough; investment from the democracy community is especially vital. As attacks escalate and needs increase, care advocates need to be supported with sustained multi-year grants that allow them to mobilize across issues and for democratic systems. 

Millions of voters will feel the consequences of the decisions made at the ballot box this November. Care is a winning issue not just for women, but for us all.

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U.S. democracy is at a dangerous inflection point—from the demise of abortion rights, to a lack of pay equity and parental leave, to skyrocketing maternal mortality, and attacks on trans health. Left unchecked, these crises will lead to wider gaps in political participation and representation. For 50 years, Ms. has been forging feminist journalism—reporting, rebelling and truth-telling from the front-lines, championing the Equal Rights Amendment, and centering the stories of those most impacted. With all that’s at stake for equality, we are redoubling our commitment for the next 50 years. In turn, we need your help, Support Ms. today with a donation—any amount that is meaningful to you. For as little as $5 each month, you’ll receive the print magazine along with our e-newsletters, action alerts, and invitations to Ms. Studios events and podcasts. We are grateful for your loyalty and ferocity.

About

Anna Shireen Wadia is the executive director of the Care for All with Respect & Equity (CARE) Fund.