Why are married people more likely to vote Republican?

This week I stumbled upon a study by the Democratic polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research that looked at the marriage gap in American politics.  Their findings are stunning:

2006 saw a 9 point gender gap with Democratic congressional candidates winning among both men and women; it also saw a 32 point marriage gap overall and a 35 point marriage gap among women.

Looking at the national exit poll in the 2006 congressional elections (Edison/Mitolsky/CNN Network exit poll) shows that married people tended to vote Republican and unmarried people overwhelmingly voted Democratic:

Married Men voted Democratic 47%; Republican 51%
Married Women voted Democratic 48%; Republican 50%
Unmarried Men voted Democratic 62%; Republican 36%
Unmarried Women voted Democratic 66%; Republican 32%

Right now marital status trumps gender, age, education, and income in explaining how someone is likely to vote.  

Greenberg Quinlan Rosner conclude by saying:

"If unmarried women participated in elections in greater numbers, they would change the course of our country's politics.

True!  But that seems like only part of the issue! We also need to get more single men to vote and we need to erode the enormous marriage gap in the first place.  

But before we can do that someone needs to answer the question:  Why are married people so much more likely to vote Republican than unmarried people? Furthermore, why is the marriage gap even larger among women than it is among men?  

Now maybe this is largely the result of self-selection.  Namely, people who want to be married tend to be more conservative (and vice versa) so it's natural that they find each other, get hitched, and vote accordingly.  It's like Republican voters and pickup trucks--Republicans are more likely to want to drive a pickup truck so naturally pickup truck owners tend to vote Republican.  As far as I know there is nothing about the process of buying a pickup truck or driving a pickup truck that turns one into a Republican. But how much of the difference in voting patterns between married and unmarried people is the result of self selection?

What about having children?  Are parents more likely to vote Republican?  Perhaps.  People married with children voted Republican 51%, Democratic 48% in 2006. People without children voted 56% Democratic, 42% Republican.  That's a 17 point gap--so perhaps it explains half of the marriage gap.  

But on a practical level having children should make parents less likely to vote Republican. Republican control of Congress is more likely to result in an increase in air pollution, an increase in toxic contaminants in drinking water, a decrease in food safety and hence more e-coli in the hamburgers children eat, and the death of cute furry creatures like polar bears that children like to read about and watch on National Geographic channel.  So unless married people with children just plain don't like their children and vote Republican as a result, logically speaking, parenthood shouldn't cause people to vote Republican.

What about mortgages?  Are married people more likely to own a home and thus more likely to vote Republican to protect their investment?  Again, that doesn't make sense.  The 8 years of the Clinton presidency saw record low interest rates and record high home ownership rates.  Furthermore, research shows that over time, the economy does better under a Democratic administration than a Republican one.  

I think it's taxes or rather tax breaks.  Being married and raising a family is expensive.  Married people are looking for any break they can get and they know that so-called "family values" Republicans are more likely to throw them a tax break than Democrats.  But it seems to me like a Faustian bargain--by electing Republicans, married people may get a small tax break and in return our air and water are more polluted and their children get sent off to fight a war in the Middle East. (Thankfully only slightly more than half of all married people make this deal with the devil.  Nonetheless, right now it's single people who deserve our gratitude for tipping the balance of power in the last election.)  

Or maybe it's a combination of self-selection and taxes.

What do you think?  


Tags: 2006 elections, gender, marriage gap (all tags)



Maybe Republicans are just

more likely to get married.

by bookgrl 2007-07-22 02:57PM | 0 recs
Isn't part of the story also about geography?
Of course more traditional-family voters are concentrated in rural areas and more socially-liberal Democratic voters are in the cities, but I wonder if it's not just a correlation but also a contributing factor.
I'm basically speculating, but I would probably argue urban unmarried women have a lot more opportunities (employment, education, housing, etc) to live fulfilled lives outside of marriage. Rural women might have fewer options, which kind of leaves them with the traditional family model. Certainly the divide isn't as stark as it once was, but it seems to me to be there.
What might speak against that theory though is that it seems like old-school progressive movements like FDR's have had roots in rural America. Though I guess that was an era in American politics when people were more focused on social inequality than on social issues / family values.
by psericks 2007-07-22 03:42PM | 0 recs
Emotion over reason

It has to do with 'family values'. The Left and Democrats have been associated with Hollywood and moral decadence for decades. Yes, the Right has framed Democrats very successfully, but it looks like the social issues will take a backseat in the next election. The backlash against democrats started in the 60's with the free love movement and the debauchery that came with it.

Married couples identify with Republicans mostly on social issues because on the surface Republicans appear to be 'family friendly' with all their talk of protecting children against the big, bad, evil corrosive culture and whatnot. Emotion wins over reason most times. And unfortunately, Democrats ceded the moral values framing argument to the Republicans.

by rosebowl 2007-07-22 03:53PM | 0 recs
Re: Why are married people more likely to vote Rep

Movies, music, TV, video games, schools. When you are raising small kids the media can be a minefield. The Democratic party is pretty civil libertarian, so we are not natural allies for families who want to control what their kids see. Public schools are a big issue for middle class parents, which is why NCLB was a centerpiece of Bush II's 2000 campaign.

by souvarine 2007-07-22 05:19PM | 0 recs

we raised our kids with kind of loose supervision in these areas.  we talked about the issues, expected the best from them, and came down pretty heavy when they crossed the line.  one turned out a republican and the other a socialist (he's in college).  the big thing we taught them was to think for themselves.  we may have succeeded...

by bored now 2007-07-24 09:33AM | 0 recs
My take

My armchair amateur take on it is this.  Deep down, conservatism and liberalism are about how you value the individual lives of the people that make up society.  Liberalism celebrates the collective and values each individual equally.  Whereas conservatism tends to celebrate the individual, and particularly the differences between individuals, in hopes to promote each of us to strive to be better than everyone else.  I like to think of this as "I'm special" vs. "We're all special".  

When you have a family you tend to focus your caring on them and are more than willing to sacrifice the good of society for the good of your family.  When you're single, by definition you don't have to make this trade.  And you're more likely to live in a densely populated area (and therefore make more connections with people in general) and thus you're more likely to value the wellbeing of people you've never met.  Call it "the conservation of mass, energy and caring", when you have kids, and I guess from this data even a spouse, you may be drawing from that finite pool of caring and placing it squarely on them.  Also to go back to the density part, families typically move to the suburbs, and the number of people connections tends to go down (not to mention the borders we erect in the suburbs to isolate further, big lawns, fences, etc).

This rolls together lots of issues discussed: family values (i.e. valuing families), taxes (i.e. providing for your family over providing for the rest of society), and security (i.e. protecting your family).  These are all issues that the GOP has traditionally done well with.  Family values since RvW, taxes since forever, and security recently (although now slipping).  

Basically, having a family alters people's priorities which directly alters people's political views.  

Going forward, the Democrats, or more aptly the progressive movement, needs to find ways to explain simply how when you strengthen society as a whole, everyone benefits, including your family.  I think there is a huge gap in communicating this idea effectively and it's why the GOP is so damned good at winning elections, but so damned bad at running the govt.

Of course, these are just my own Chertoff-like gut feelings, I'm not sure if there's any specific data that backs up that take.

by cesar 2007-07-22 06:49PM | 0 recs
Re: Why are married people more likely to vote Rep

Very interesting diary. This should be on the Rec list, but as usual we have to be force-fed what Obama and Edwards ate for breakfast and wore to the supermarket.

by OfficeOfLife 2007-07-22 07:07PM | 0 recs
Re: Why are married people more likely to vote Rep

I think it's a lot more about dollars and pocketbook issues than it's about violent video games or whatever.

When you get married and have kids your focus necessarily turns inward to some extent.  Don't let me overgeneralize, but there's a greater urgency to make sure your family is provided for and less urgency to change the world, help other people out of poverty, etc.  So selfish appeals to tax cuts and the like do a lot to attract this demographic.

Democrats can make inroads with this group by continuing to address college costs, family leave, and the like.

by Steve M 2007-07-22 07:46PM | 0 recs
Re: Why are married people more likely to vote Rep

These are great comments.  Thanks to all those who have taken the time to write.

I get that Republicans have been good at marketing "family values" and that this might appeal to married people with families.  But on all the bread and butter issues that seem to actually matter to families--interest rates, health care costs, crime, schools, college tuition, the air we breath, and the water we drink--Democrats are actually much better at looking out for families than Republicans.  

Is it simply a question of marketing?  Is it just that Republicans speak directly to married people even though policy-wise, Republicans do not take care of families as well as Democrats?  

I think this data also shows why Republicans are freaked out by the current Democratic presidential field.  The marriage gap has been their margin of victory in the past two Presidential elections (well that, and the rigged machines and uncounted ballots).  If any of the Democratic front runners can close the marriage gap or increase the number of single women who turn out or both--the Democrats will win big.  Clinton, Obama, and Edwards all show the potential to be able to do just that--decrease the marriage gap and increase the turnout of single women.  

by RFK Action Front 2007-07-22 08:27PM | 0 recs
Re: Why are married people more likely to vote Rep
It's been interesting to see candidates start talking about addressing the needs of 'working families,' like providing flex time, maternal leave, expanding the child tax credit to low income families --- in other words, making it easier for people to be good parents, addressing the needs of today's families. I think things like this might go a ways towards reaching out to families with children.
One of the champions of this approach for the last few years, Karen Kornbluh, is now working for Obama as his policy director. Her key phrase is "family-based progressivism," and she talks about, in Erza Klein's words, "creating a social insurance system keyed to the needs of modern families." Here's more about 'family-based progressivism' and Kornbluh.
by psericks 2007-07-23 01:23AM | 0 recs

My sister is married to a Republican and he always tells her that they should vote Republican or their taxes will go up- that seems to be the reason he does it.

by reasonwarrior 2007-07-22 10:25PM | 0 recs
Re: Why are married people more likely to vote Rep
In the small sample of women whom I personally know well enough to notice, they do change when they marry.  They drift away from their kookier friends and they go to boring parties that benefit their careers of their husbands careers. They buy houses and worry about making it the prettiest one on the block.  They worry about their children's moral development so they start going to church. They lose a spirit of adventure because of the intense responsibilities of motherhood and with it the time and inclination to experiment with new ideas.  They become their mother.  Not always, of course. Not even most of the time. But I have seen it happen fairly often.
If I were going to change this, I would try to have slick magazines like Better, Home, and Gardens move away from touting expensive stuff and emphasize that to raise good and happy children, you need, for example, to learn to be generous to those less fortunate. Impossible, I know, but it lets you know what you're up against. Suburban culture is fairly competitive in terms of stuff.  I don't know how we could compete with the toys Madison Ave. sells.  Although when I talk high-mindedly with my old friends, in general, I think they take it to heart.  Or maybe they are just polite.
by prince myshkin 2007-07-22 10:49PM | 0 recs

Taxes Taxes Taxes.

If you are the sort of person that knows how much you pay in taxes down to the last nickel you are probably a Republican.  

If you are a person that thinks you pay too much in taxes you are probably a Republican.

by dpANDREWS 2007-07-23 06:52AM | 0 recs


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