The recycling bin and the voting booth

Marriage gap is wide in her house

October 01, 2012|Susan Reimer

This is a story about recycling, and how everything is politically charged this election season.

My husband carried our newspapers — which, by the way, he believes are hopelessly in the bag for President Barack Obama — to the curb the night before the recycling truck was scheduled.

He left them there, not in a recycling bin, but in the cute, little box I keep in the kitchen to hold them.

Next morning, the men on the recycling truck took the newspapers — and my cute, little box — and I cursed them. Now I would have to find another cute box.

"That's the difference between you and me," my husband said. "You blame them because you expect the government to solve all your problems. You are part of the 47 percent.

"I would blame myself," he continued. "I am the one who left the box on the curb. I take personal responsibility. It is my fault."

"On that point," I said, "we can agree. It is your fault. And you, not I, are a member of the 47 percent. You just signed up for Medicare."

It happens every four years. I wake up to my husband's daily political commentary and realize I am sleeping with the enemy. He is worse than Fox News, because he doesn't respond to a remote.

According to a Pew Research Center poll, President Obama holds a 19-point lead over Mitt Romney among women registered voters, so you would think the political tensions in my household would be playing out all over the neighborhood: married couples going to bed in a cold fury over the role of the federal government in resuscitating the economy, instead of who forgot to take out the recycling.

But it isn't as simple as that.

A mid-September Gallup Poll showed married registered voters (of either sex) favor Mr. Romney by 54 percent to 39 percent. In contrast, nonmarried registered voters favor President Obama, 54 percent to 35 percent. These include singles, domestic partners, widowed, divorced and separated.

Why the marriage gap?

Well, to begin, married people most often describe themselves as highly or very religious, white and older.

And marriage produces the kinds of life changes that can also change a person's political point of view. Once you have acquired a house and kids, you are more likely to think in terms of protecting what you have against the demands of another group. You also want the future assured against change.

But if you are going it alone — especially if you are a single head of household with children — you might be more likely to count on the safety net that government programs provide in child care, health care, education and other household supports.

President Obama is no doubt counting on his margin among single women — a Quinnipiac University poll shows him at 60 percent — to offset Mr. Romney's smaller lead among married women, which is at about 7 percent. Women may very well decide this election; there are more women voters, and they are more likely to go to the polls.

Or will women simply cancel out their husbands' votes? That was, after all, one of the arguments against women's suffrage. It doesn't appear likely. According to extensive research reported by the National Journal, the Republican nominee has carried married white women in the past seven presidential elections and averaged 57 percent of their votes in the past three. It looks like they are voting along with their husbands.

According to Gallup, these married voters have voted for Republican presidential candidates by disproportionately wide margins since exit polls starting asking about marital status in 1984, but the party might not be able to count on them for very much longer.

In 1960, 72 percent of all adults were married, according to the U.S. Census. By 2000, that number had fallen to 57 percent. In 2012, it is only 53 percent. Fewer people are choosing to marry, and that voter bloc is going to age itself out.

And college-educated white women have been increasing their share of the vote, from 11 percent in 1984 to 17 percent in 2008, according to the National Journal. Plus, women are now earning about 60 percent of the college degrees in this country. This group leans heavily Democratic, and it is growing.

If the patterns among single women and college-educated women hold in future elections, the gender gap may cease being a statistical difference and become the controlling factor.

In any case, I can't wait for Nov. 6, when my husband and I can simply argue about who should take out the recycling and not about what it says about the politics of the one who does.

Susan Reimer's column appears Mondays and Thursdays. She can be reached at and @SusanReimer on Twitter.

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