Column One:
Eye on Unmarried America

October 16,  2006  



Foley scandal may alter dynamics of 'marriage gap'

By Thomas F. Coleman

Under normal circumstances, the so-called "marriage gap" in voting patterns could have given Republicans a reasonable chance of retaining a majority in the United States House of Representatives this November.  But with the media fanning the flames of the Mark Foley scandal, this is not an ordinary election year.

The "marriage gap" is a dynamic in which a majority of married voters tend to support Republican candidates and a majority of unmarried voters lean in favor of Democrats.  Since 65 percent of voters in the 2004 federal elections were married, Democrats would have had an uphill battle to win a majority of seats in the House of Representatives this year, if normal voting patterns were to occur.

Of the 435 members of the House of Representatives, there are 230 Republicans, 201 Democrats, and one Independent, with three seats vacant.   Democrats need to pick up 16 seats to take control of the House, which has had a Republican majority since 1995.

USA Today recently did an analysis of the marital status of adults in all of the congressional districts.  The research showed that four of the five Republican house members with the lowest percent of married people in their districts are in competitive re-election races this year.

"Republicans control congressional districts that have the highest marriage rates; Democrats control those with the lowest," says the USA Today analysis.  "Most serious Democratic challenges this fall are in Republican-controlled House districts that have lower marriage rates."

Of the 38 Republican seats considered vulnerable, 27 have "fewer married people than found in the average GOP district," USA Today said. 

Marital status and voting trends was the focus of a recent study released last month at a meeting of the American Political Science Association.  The researchers concluded that married citizens vote more than people in any other household or living arrangement.  Although married people account for 58 percent of the adult population, they constitute 65 percent of people who show up at the polls to vote.

Since married people generally make more money than singles, are more likely to own a home, and are more prone to have children, they also tend to be more conservative.  As a result, they are more likely to vote Republican.

Now consider the Foley factor -- a scandal which is likely to scramble the usual "marriage gap" dynamics and thus prompt many married voters to vote for Democratic congressional candidates.

Former Congressman Mark Foley recently quit his job after his overtures to teenage boys was discovered.  While Foley's e-mails to male congressional pages got him into trouble with the American public, that same public has been wondering why those who control Congress -- the Republican leadership -- allowed this debacle to continue for so long.

A Gallup Poll conducted for USA Today one week ago shows that voters are so upset with the way Republicans handled the Foley matter, they are likely to punish Republican congressional candidates come election day. 

Democrats have a 23-point lead over Republicans in every group of people questioned likely voters, registered voters and adults as to which party's congressional candidate would get their vote, the Gallup Poll revealed.  Three other recent polls released by CNN, ABC News/Washington Post and CBS News/New York Times, show Democrats leading the congressional ballot by 13 to 21 points.

The CBS News/New York Times poll shows that even Republican voters are upset with the Republican leadership in Congress.  "By overwhelming numbers, including majorities of Republicans, Americans said that most members of Congress do not follow the same rules of behavior as average Americans, and that most members of Congress consider themselves above the law," a New York Times story reported.

Married moms constitute a group that Republicans have long counted on for consistent support.  In the 2002 congressional elections, more than half of married moms sided with Republicans while only 35 percent voted with Democrats. Two years later, married moms preferred Bush over Democratic Sen. John Kerry by 56 percent to 42 percent.

But the support of this constituency for Republicans is eroding this year.  An Associated Press poll conducted earlier this month found that support of married women with children at home is now evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans.

When Republicans can't count on votes from a majority of married moms, can a switch of control in Congress -- from Republicans to Democrats -- be far behind?

Unmarried America 2006

Thomas F. Coleman, Executive Director of Unmarried America, is an attorney with 33 years of experience in singles' rights, family diversity, domestic partner benefits, and marital status discrimination.  Each week he adds a new commentary to Column One: Eye on Unmarried America. E-mail: Unmarried America is a nonprofit information service for unmarried employees, consumers, taxpayers, and voters.