Column One:
Eye on Unmarried America

November 20,  2006  



Married voters break with 'marriage gap' pattern

By Thomas F. Coleman

The so-called "marriage gap" in American voting patterns has been evident in most federal elections in recent years.  The overwhelming majority of married voters choose a Republican candidate while a super majority of unmarried voters select a Democrat.

That pattern was broken last week because so many married people defected from their Republican inclinations and supported a Democratic contender for Congress.  This defection probably cost the Republicans control of Congress.

The percent of married people who turn out to vote is generally disproportionately higher than their numbers in the general population.  The reverse is true for unmarried voters.

Last week's election fits that pattern, with the exception that married voters turned out in even higher numbers than usual.  That should have favored Republican candidates except that something unusual apparently happened to cause so many married people to vote Democratic.  Dissatisfaction with the war in Iraq, perhaps?

Married adults comprise about 58 percent of the adult population in the United States.  Last week's national exit poll showed that 68 percent of voters were married.  By comparison, 58 percent of voters in 2004 were married as were 57 percent of those who voted in 2000.

In 2004, 60 percent of married voters selected George W. Bush as their choice with only 40 percent choosing John Kerry.  The opposite was true for unmarried voters, with  a 40-60 split favoring Kerry. 

The current election saw nearly equal numbers of married men and married women sending a signal of disapproval to the Republicans. 

Some 35 percent of voters were married men and they favored Republicans to Democrats by only 51 percent to 47 percent.  About 33 percent of voters were married women and they split their votes by an even narrower margin.

Although unmarried voters turned out in smaller numbers, the gap in their voting patterns was huge.  Some 14 percent of voters were unmarried men and 62 percent of them supported a Democrat while 36 percent supported a Republican.

Unmarried women, who comprised 18 percent of voters, had the most pronounced Democratic-Republican ratio of all marital status sub-groups, with 66 percent favoring Democrats and 32 percent voting for Republicans.

Getting unmarried women to the polls this year was a goal of Women's Voices -- Women Vote, a group devoted to increasing the number of single women voters. 

Their campaign seems to have worked well in places such as Pennsylvania and Missouri.

An exit poll found that unmarried women constituted 18 percent of those who voted in Pennsylvania this year. That was several percentage points higher than in states where there was no special outreach to "women on their own" -- a phrase the group uses to describe unmarried women.  Unmarried women in Pennsylvania favored Democrat Bob Casey Jr. over GOP incumbent Sen. Rick Santorum, by 69 percent to 31 percent.

Unmarried women comprised 19 percent of the Missouri electorate last week a slightly percent higher than the national average.  In the Missouri race for U.S. Senate, 61 percent of the roughly 400,000 single women who voted picked Claire McCaskill over Republican incumbent Jim Talent. That calculates to a 100,000-vote edge for McCaskill within the unmarried female demographic.  McCaskill won by fewer than 50,000 votes.

While Democrats must be pleased with the support they received from unmarried women, Republicans must be scratching their heads in disbelief over the defection of one of their most loyal constituencies -- married moms.

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

But something unusual happened this year.  Married moms, making up 14 percent of voters, split their vote evenly between Republicans and Democrats.

Party loyalty did not seem to be much of an issue in this election.  More than 90 percent of registered Republicans voted for Republican candidates with a similar percentage of registered Democrats voting for their party's candidates. 

The name of the political game seems to be capturing the support of "Independents."  In the current election, 26 percent of voters identified themselves as such.  They favored Democrats over Republicans by a margin of 57 percent to 39 percent.

It would seem that the Democratic and Republican parties have some homework to do. Could some surveys and focus groups be in the making which focus on the politics of marital status among Independent voters?

To read other editions of Column One, click here.

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.