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December 9 2016

Family Factor: How Did It Play in the Presidential Election?

Charlotte Hays

While Republican presidential candidates always do better with married voters,Democrats prevail with single voters. Single-mothers are predictably a Democratic block, which gave rise to the Obama campaign's famous "Life Of Julia" infomercial aimed at wooing such voters.

W. Bradford Wilcox and John McEwan have taken a look at single and married voters. Something interesting may be looming on the horizon.

The presidential campaign just ended pretty much followed this pattern--with some overlooked but fascinating differences. Donald Trump won married voters by 52 percent. CNN reported a 24-point gender gap with women going for Hillary Clinton.

Get beyond the general outline some interesting facts emerge. Trump did worse than Mitt Romney--by three points--among married voters and slightly better among unmarried voters (2 points better than Romney). Romney had fared worse than Trump in counties with larger numbers of single-parent families. Trump, in fact, did better with single-parent voters than Republicans tend to do.

This phenomenon is small and hasn't been remarked upon--but it is interesting. What could it mean?

Why would such counties — which are disproportionately in the Midwest — prove so open to the Trump message? Undoubtedly, concerns and motivations related to trade, immigration, and race were important in explaining the rise of Trump in counties where Obama had previously won. But the breakdown of the family in some of these predominantly middle American counties may have also played a role, giving rise to concerns about the social fabric, lower levels of physical and psychological health, and more economic insecurity — all of which could have made Trump attractive as a candidate of change who will “make America great again,” particularly for the less-educated whites who predominate in these counties.

In recent decades, as I argued in When Marriage Disappears, working-class whites have seen marked declines in marriage and family stability. The psychological, social, and economic consequences of this retreat from marriage have been destabilizing. The fallout of this retreat from marriage may have also helped make some Middle Americans more open to dramatic political changes, including — in this case — switching from Barack Obama to Donald J. Trump. Another way to frame this: in 2016, Trump made inroads among the unmarried and in counties where the traditional family has lost ground.

This analysis seems to indicate that more single parents are worried by the social ills caused by the breakdown of the family and may be edging towards correcting the situation with approaches different from the government-dependency solution in "Life of Julia."



Independent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
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