Thursday, February 02, 2012
I am working my way through Ruy Teixeira and John Halpin's "The Path To 270" and wanted to do a quick post on a fascinating bit of data. Teixeira, co-author of "The Emerging Democratic Majority," is the primary influence on how I tend to approach election analysis given his emphasis on demographic change and political geography.
In "The Path To 270" Teixeira and Halpin delve into the major components of the coalition that elected President Obama with an eye to how these groups have increased or decreased in number and how they will approach the 2012 election. Beyond their focus on minority voters and college educated whites (topics which I'll try to cover in future posts), I was struck by the data they present on single women. To quote...
Unmarried women were also strong Obama supporters in 2008, favoring him by a 70-29 margin. Unmarried women now make up almost half, 47 percent, of adult women, up from 38 percent in 1970. Their current share of the voter pool--a quarter of eligible voters--is nearly the size of white evangelical protestants, the GOP's largest base group. And since the growth rate of unmarried women is so fast (double that of married women) the proportion of unmarried women in the voting pool will continue to increase.
Teixeira and Halpin's analysis draws upon an earlier study of unmarried voters, "A New America," produced by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research in 2007. Further putting the numbers in context, they note "there are over 53 unmarried women of voting age, a number that dwarfs the percentage of seniors, people of color and even union members." In comparing marital status with other variables, they find that "marital status is a powerful predictor of the vote within other voting blocks; unmarried women tend to vote like other unmarried women, regardless of other powerful demographic variables such as age, income, and education."
To connect these demographic trends with policy, Greenberg and his co-authors make a strong case that unmarried women, in particular, have been strong proponents of health care reform, reduced American military involvement overseas, and economic parity in the workplace. Given what Obama has achieved in these areas, it will be interesting to see how his campaign messaging targets unmarried women. While health care reform, specifically, has been a subject that Obama has been hesitant to discuss with broad audiences, I would bet that there will be a great deal of "microtargeting" directed at unmarried women.
If we were to extend our analysis to include unmarried men as well (who also favored Obama in 2008 but to a lesser degree than women), the numbers are even more staggering. As this recent piece notes (and the visual at top shows) not only are single people becoming more numerous, but they tend to be concentrated in certain geographic areas. Again, from Greenberg...
From 1960 to 2006, the percentage of the voting age population that was unmarried grew from 27 to 45 percent. Between the 2002 and 2006 elections, the growth rate of unmarried Americans was double that of married Americans. If this trend continues, the unmarried will be a majority of the population within 15 years.
So, moving forward it will be worth paying attention to this dimension of the voting public. While there seems to be little discussion of how marital status affects policy beliefs and voting preferences--at least in more mainstream venues--the data on single Americans is pretty compelling, especially as their numbers increase so dramatically. In this regard, it would seem as if the recent economic downturn would have been felt particularly hard by single Americans. A married couple is better able to absorb a loss or decline in income than a single individual. Thus, how these folks perceive the past four years--and assign responsibility for the downturn--will be crucial to both parties in November.