In American politics, the gender gap, the wealth gap, the racial equity gap—all sorts of gaps—receive attention.
But one gap is often overlooked: the marriage gap.
The American Enterprise Institute’s Brad Wilcox and Peyton Roth have an eye-opening piece in The American Conservative (which is increasingly a must-read) on this often overlooked gap that factors heavily into the way Americans vote.
The chaos and controversy surrounding the 2020 presidential election—plus election takes that stress the role of race, gender, and education in solidifying President Biden’s victory—obscure a deeper current running through American political reality. Namely, even today, American politics remains fundamentally divided by family life.
Our colleague Lyman Stone recently highlighted one aspect of this story: Families and communities with more children tend to vote red. But there is another key dimension: Marriage continues to shape U.S. elections. This past November, married Americans and communities with more married men and women were markedly more likely to vote Republican.
A cursory look at 2020 election polling data reveals a sharp divide between married and unmarried adults. The AP VoteCast (a massive online poll fielded in the days just before the election) suggests Donald Trump received a comfortable majority of votes among married men and women (54 percent).
Polling data also suggest that Trump gained ground among married women in 2020. According to the National Exit Poll, Hillary Clinton won 49 percent of votes from married women in 2016, compared to Trump’s 47 percent. In comparison, the AP VoteCast suggests Trump won a majority of votes from married women in 2020 (52 percent compared to Biden’s 47 percent).
The same holds true for Senate races.
Single women are a crucial constituency for the Democratic Party. It is easy to suggest a reason: a single person, especially one with children, is more likely to hope that government will supply some of the safety net functions of the family.
The 2016 Obama campaign’s famous “Life of Julia” slideshow wooed women voters by pitching a life defined by dependence on government programs.
Wilcox and Roth conclude:
The past several decades have seen a growing chasm in the family experiences of Americans, accompanied by a realignment between parties that has largely fallen along family lines. One crucial dimension of this divide—a dimension that is often overlooked by journalists, academics, and policymakers—is the extent to which unmarried Americans tilt Democratic and married Americans tilt Republican. It remains to be seen if President Joe Biden and his administration will begin to bridge this divide, or deepen it.
Conservatives would do well to pursue policies friendly to family formation and to convince citizens that the state is a poor substitute for parents. And the state’s services are not cost-free.