Polling shows a strong relationship between marriage status and political outlook.
As political scientists, pundits, and historians try to make sense of the November 2020 election, a marriage divide in the electorate has emerged. Married Americans were appreciably more likely to vote for Trump than those who were either unmarried and cohabiting or single. As reported last week in TAC, Peyton Roth and W. Bradford Wilcox recently found that marriage was one of the strongest predictors of Republican voting in 2020. But such a discovery does not mean that married Americans are solely extreme Trump supporters, are ideologically monolithic, or have negative Trumpian views about the nation’s future whatsoever.
Specifically, Roth and Wilcox found that “states with a higher share of married adults cast a greater share of their vote for President Trump in 2020 compared to states with a lower share of married adults.” This trend is confirmed in new national data from over 1,400 Americans surveyed in the Los Angeles Times/Reality Check Insights poll (LAT/RCI), which also uncovered a divide in Trump support based on marital status. A support rate not matched by other groups, 45 percent of married Americans voted for Donald Trump. For those who are unmarried and living with a partner, only 20 percent voted for Trump, and just 18 percent of single Americans voted for Trump. Without question, there was a strong relationship between marriage and voting in 2020.
However, the LAT/RCI poll provides more detail as to how marriage appears to impact political outlook. For instance, Americans were asked, regardless of how they voted, if they believed that the new Biden administration will govern for all Americans. While just over half (53 percent) of those who are married think that President Biden will govern for all, the figure jumps to 73 percent for single Americans and 63 percent for unmarried, cohabiting partners. Marriage has clearly influenced views about polarization and partisanship.
When ideology is considered, the new data demonstrate that married Americans are not a monolithic conservative bloc. About a third (32 percent) of married Americans identify as conservative, while almost a quarter (23 percent) identify as liberal, with the plurality (45 percent) moderate or leaners. This is a slight lean to the right, but hardly a lopsided distribution of Americans. Single Americans lean to the left, but this is also not extreme. Only 16 percent of singles are conservative and 32 percent are liberal, but the majority (52 percent) are in the middle. Those who are unmarried but living with a partner look similar to singles, with close to two-fifths on the left (38 percent) and a tenth identifying as conservative (10 percent). But the bulk are again in the middle (52 percent). None of these groups is ideologically homogeneous, or dominated by one side or the other.
Marriage affects other views about 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 on the way to achieving the American Dream (41 percent). These numbers are appreciably higher than their unmarried counterparts. Just 24 percent of singles say they are living the American Dream, and only 19 percent of unmarried, partnered Americans think that they are living the American Dream. Even including respondents who describe themselves as on the way to achieving the American Dream, the numbers are still notably lower for unmarried Americans. Additionally and unsurprisingly, 81 percent of married Americans believe that having a good family life is an essential component of the American Dream compared to 67 percent of single Americans.
One surprising finding in the data is that married Americans are far less concerned with the politics of their neighbors, which seems to cut against the idea that Americans sort into like-minded communities. When asked if it was essential to the community they would most like to live in whether most members shared their political views, just 8 percent of married Americans answered in the affirmative. In contrast, 17 percent of single Americans stated it was essential to be around others who share their views. The figure is essentially the same for unmarried cohabiting couples as well. There are real differences in tolerance of others cut along marriage lines, and marriage appears to have a potent connection to openness toward others.
Finally, while the marriage difference was strong in terms of Trump support, the effect on attitudes toward compromise with others was minor. When respondents were asked if compromise is possible in politics, two-thirds of married Americans (65 percent) said they believe it is, compared to 72 percent of single Americans and 71 percent of the unmarried, living with a partner. These are not huge differences and suggest that while vote choices were different, pragmatism is extremely important to married couples. 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 appreciably more likely to vote for Donald Trump in 2020 compared to single Americans, but married Americans are not a single bloc of conservatives. Before they attack the institution of marriage or vilify married couples for being supporters of the GOP, progressives should note that the married are open to compromise and are generally very optimistic about the country’s future. If the Biden administration and liberals in power want to truly unify the nation, they must understand the views of married Americans and work with them to implement family-friendly policy.
Samuel J. Abrams is professor of politics at Sarah Lawrence College and a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.