The marriage and gender gaps 08

by on August 7, 2008  •  In Elections The Marriage & Gender Gaps

By Margie Omero

…Last week Women’s Voices Women Vote Action Fund came out with a survey of unmarried women in battleground states (WVWV is a non-partisan organization; their surveys are typically conducted by Democratic polling firms).  As we’ve noted before, "unmarried" people can be in many varied stages of life–the single and college-aged, co-habitating couples in their late 20s, single parents, gay couples in a committed relationship, divorced baby boomers, older widows and widowers.  Such diversity makes me wonder about studying "unmarried" voters as a group.  Is the implication that non-marriage is somehow unifying?  Or does non-marriage frequently (but not always) co-vary with more dominant characteristics when it comes to predicting voting behavior, such as being younger, downscale, or more transient?  If it’s the latter, then maybe we should be studying those other demographic variables instead.

I’ve written before here and here about the "marriage gap in turnout" that, despite the lopsided press coverage, is actually larger among men than among women.  I continue to worry about singling out a "marriage gap" in Democratic performance among women, leading some to think it a uniquely female phenomenon.  For one, it sends a message that women form their political views based on their relationships to others.  The "Soccer Moms" of yesteryear have given way to the "Carrie" voters of today; we are led to believe the presence or absence of husbands and/or children changes the way women (rather than men) view their worlds.  One blogger immediately seized on the recent poll results with: "why is it that women change their party registration with their marriage license?"

Second, and most importantly, the marriage gap is actually not uniquely female.  Recent Gallup research on the presidential race shows a marriage gap across gender.  For both men and women, unmarried voters are more Democratic than are their married counterparts.  In fact, the marriage gap in Democratic performance has frequently been larger for men than for women.

Further, Obama’s marriage gap, even across gender, is consistent with past elections.  WVWV’s own materials show a similar pattern in the 2004 presidential race and 2006 midterm elections. 

So the marriage gap is not a female-specific phenomenon.  Further, Obama’s marriage gap is consistent with what we’ve seen in the past.

Gallup’s weekly tracking also allows us to monitor the overall gender gap.  Since June, Obama’s gender gap has widened slightly. But either at its low end or high end, Obama’s gender gap falls in the range established in recent elections. 

We obviously still have a ways to go until November.  But what strikes me about Obama’s marriage gap and the gender gap is how similar they all are to previous elections.  Despite this election being historic, a pure open seat, and during both wartime and economic crisis, Obama’s performance in many ways resembles the typical, contested elections of recent years.

[follow the link to see charts]


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