Married Americans Are Different The American Conservatives
Surveys show a strong relationship between the status of marriage and political attitudes.
As political scientists, experts, and historians try to understand the November 2020 election, a rift has emerged between voters in the electorate. Married Americans were much more likely to vote for Trump than those who were either unmarried and cohabiting or single. As reported in last week TAC, Peyton Roth and W. Bradford Wilcox recently found that marriage was one of the strongest predictors of the 2020 Republican vote. However, such a discovery does not mean that married Americans are just extreme Trump supporters, ideologically monolithic, or have negative Trumpian views on the future of the nation.
In particular, Roth and Wilcox found that “States with a higher proportion of married adults cast a greater proportion of their votes for President Trump in 2020 than states with a lower proportion of married adults.” This trend is confirmed by new national data from over 1,400 Americans surveyed Los Angeles times/ Reality Check Insights (LAT / RCI) survey that also uncovered a gap in Trump support based on marital status. 45 percent of married Americans voted for Donald Trump. For those who are unmarried and live with a partner, only 20 percent voted for Trump and only 18 percent of single Americans voted for Trump. Without question, there was a close connection between marriage and voting in 2020.
However, the LAT / RCI survey provides more detailed information on how marriage affects political outlook. For example, regardless of their choice, Americans were asked if they believed the new Biden administration will rule for all Americans. While just over half (53 percent) of married people believe that President Biden will rule for all, the number rises to 73 percent for single Americans and 63 percent for unmarried partners. Marriage has clearly influenced views on polarization and partisanship.
If you look at ideology, the new data shows that married Americans are not a monolithic-conservative bloc. About a third (32 percent) of married Americans identify as conservative, while nearly a quarter (23 percent) identify as liberal, with the majority (45 percent) being moderate or lean. That is a light lean to the right, but hardly a one-sided distribution of Americans. Individual Americans lean to the left, but that’s not extreme either. Only 16 percent of singles are conservative and 32 percent are liberal, but the majority (52 percent) is in the middle. Those who are unmarried but live with a partner see singles similarly, with almost two-fifths on the left (38 percent) and one-tenth as conservative (10 percent). But the majority is back in the middle (52 percent). None of these groups is ideologically homogeneous or dominated by one side or the other.
Marriage affects other views of American society in very positive ways. Consider “The American Dream”: 87 percent of married Americans believe that they are either living (46 percent) or are about to make the American dream come true (41 percent). These numbers are significantly higher than those of their unmarried colleagues. Only 24 percent of singles say they are living the American dream, and only 19 percent of unmarried American partners who are married believe they are living the American dream. Even among respondents who said they were on the road to the American Dream, the numbers for unmarried Americans are still significantly lower. Additionally, 81 percent of married Americans believe that having a good family life is an integral part of the American dream, compared with 67 percent of single Americans.
One surprising finding in the data is that married Americans are far less preoccupied with their neighbors’ politics, which seems to go against the idea that Americans sort into like-minded communities. When asked whether it was essential to the community that most members share their political views, only 8 percent of married Americans answered yes. In contrast, 17 percent of single Americans said it was important to be with others who shared their views. The number is essentially the same for unmarried couples living together. There are real differences in tolerance towards others that run along the line of marriage, and marriage seems to be strongly related to openness to others.
While the difference in marriage in terms of Trump’s support was large, the impact on attitudes toward compromising with others was small. When respondents were asked if there was a compromise in politics, two-thirds of married Americans (65 percent) said they did, compared with 72 percent of single Americans and 71 percent of unmarried Americans who were with a partner living together. These aren’t big differences and suggest that pragmatism is extremely important for married couples, although the choices were different. After all, they should already understand the importance of give and take.
In short, marriage is generally a higher priority for people with a more conservative worldview. Married Americans were significantly more likely to vote for Donald Trump than single Americans in 2020, but married Americans are not a single conservative bloc. Before attacking the institution of marriage or denigrating married couples as supporters of the GOP, progressives should note that married couples are willing to compromise and are generally very optimistic about the country’s future. If the Biden administration and the liberals in power are to truly unite the nation, they must understand the views of married Americans and work with them to implement family-friendly policies.
Samuel J. Abrams is Professor of Politics at Sarah Lawrence College and Visiting Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.