Single Women and the Marriage Gap Key to the 2012 Election

October 22, 2012

In these last weeks of the 2012 elections, media attention has turned to how the presidential candidates will win the “women’s vote.” But that misses the real story. There is a vast difference between married and unmarried women. Conflating them into one voting bloc produces a false reading of the electorate.

The U.S. Census Bureau documents that marital status is one of the major determinants of whether or not an individual registers and votes – and regression analyses point to the power of marital status in determining vote preference.

The marriage gap, not the gender gap, tells the real story of the 2012 election. “Although much has been made about the gender gap… the marriage gap is actually larger and more telling,” according to Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. Here’s why:

Unmarried women – women who are divorced, separated, widowed or never been married – are a huge, rapidly growing part of the electorate and they could make the difference in the Presidential and key Senate races this year.  

  • Single women make up 25 percent of the voting age population nationally and account for an even larger percentage of the population in 19 states – including Nevada, New Mexico and North Carolina.
  • Single women are the fastest growing large demographic group in our nation in terms of sheer numbers.  55 million unmarried women will be eligible to vote on November 6, 2012.

Politically, unmarried women are very different than married women.

  • In 2008, unmarried women were 23% of everyone who voted.
  • Marital status is a key predictor of electoral participation, preferences and values.  Married women are more likely to register and to vote than unmarried women.
  • In 2008, 71% of married women voted, versus 60% of unmarried women.
  • In 2010, 54% of married women voted versus 38% of unmarried women. And, turnout among single women dropped more than for other groups.
  • Though it varies from race to race and between election cycles, unmarried women tend to vote for the more progressive candidates.  When unmarried women turn out, progressive candidates tend to win.
  • In 2008, the marriage gap was 44 percentage points. Unmarried women voted for Obama over McCain 70-29 (+41), while married women supported McCain by 3 percentage points (50-47).
  • In 2004, unmarried women voted for Kerry over Bush 62-37.
  • In 2010, the marriage gap was 30 percent points. Unmarried women voted +16 percentage points for Democrats (57-41), while married women voted +14 percentage points for Republicans (56-42).

This time chart of daily tracking conducted by Investor’s Business Daily/TIPP makes it clear that married and unmarried women look at this race differently:

Polling Date Obama Romney Unsure Advantage Marriage Gap
(Difference between single and married women)
Day 1 (10/9) Single 60 33 6 O+27 34
Married 42 49 7 R+7
Day 2 (10/10) Single 58 37 5 O+21 25
Married 43 47 8 R+4
Day 3 (10/11) Single 58 37 5 O+21 25
Married 43 47 7 R+4
Day 4 (10/12) Single 58 35 6 O+23 29
Married 42 48 7 R+6
Day 5 (10/13) Single 61 32 6 O+29 37
Married 41 49 7 R+8
Day 6 (10/14) Single 65 27 5 O+38 50
Married 40 52 7 R+12
Day 7 (10/15) Single 65 29 4 O+36 52
Married 39 55 5 R+16
Day 8 (10/16) Single 65 27 5 O+38 57
Married 38 57 3 R+19
Day 9 (10/17) Single 63 26 8 O+37 51
Married 41 55 3 R+14
Day 10 (10/18) Single 61 29 8 O+32 49
Married 39 56 3 R+17

And it’s important to note that over the past five presidential elections, the marriage gap has grown while the gender gap has shrunk.

Source: Lake Research Partners – “Unmarried America 2009”