In recent days new polling has come out showing Mitt Romney running even or just slightly behind President Obama among women. From this limited evidence many pundits and political analysts have come up with a limited answer; the election will come down to suburban women.
Well first off what the heck defines a suburban woman? And second, are we talking about actual geographic location or the typical definition of a suburban woman, which is married and having kids? There are just to many variables involved to accurately define a suburban woman.
Thus, I would like to offer an alternative view on what this election will come down to. Simply put, regarding women specifically, the election will come down to the marriage divide. We have all heard of the gender gap. Men usually favor Republican candidates and women favor Democrats in competitive races.
Less noted but just as prevalent has been the rise of the marriage divide. With the number of Americans who are not married rising and more and more children being born out-of-wedlock, single voters have gained greater power at the ballot box, this has benefitted Democrats recently. Typically most pollsters do not include in their samples whether you are married or not but in mid September Gallup did a survey on the preferences of married vs. unmarried voters in this election. The results were quite stark.
In the survey, among married registered voters Romney had a commanding 54%-39% lead. Among those who were not married Obama had a similar commanding lead of 56%-35%. Gallup provided prior polling data from surveys taken as far back as 1996 (among likely voters) and found this is nothing new. In 2008 John McCain led among married voters with 56% while Obama led among the unmarried with 65%.
When other factors such as race and religiosity are taken into account the dynamic still does not change. Among those who are highly religious but not married Obama leads with 49%. Romney leads among those who are highly religious and married. The same dynamic is in effect among moderately religious voters. When race is factored in Romney leads among married whites and actually runs dead even with the president among unmarried whites at 45%. But among non-hispanic whites who are not married Obama leads convincingly. But among those who are married non-whites Romney gets 23% as opposed to only 11% among unmarried nonwhites.
In 2010 there is evidence Republicans made inroads with unmarried voters. According to the national House exit poll dads expectantly went 58% for the GOP. Moms went 52%-45% for Democrats. What suggests unmarried men and women favored the GOP more in 2010 (though the question did not specifically ask about marriage, just about parenthood)is that men without kids went for the GOP 54%-44%. Women without kids actually favored the GOP 48%-46%.
Still, this is unlikely to happen again this electoral cycle. Single women put more emphasis on social issues, which Democrats appeal to them on, while married women put more emphasis on traditional values and the debate over taxes. With both parties doubling-down on their core issues message this leaves the few swing married and unmarried women voters in a tight spot about what they value more. These women are scattered across the country and not just in the suburbs.
It is true the election will come down to women. They tend to vote more than men and are slightly more politically active in a variety of ways. But it is the margins that Romney carries married women and Obama carries unmarried women that will decide this election. Where the suburban women go in this election obviously matters. But it will only be one variable among many in what determines who wins this election. The marriage divide among women will be far more consequential.