One of the longstanding sources of frustration and disappointment among advocacy-oriented unmarried Americans is that political candidates rarely address us or promise to fight for us, the way they so often vow to stand up for married couples and traditional families. In their campaign materials, candidates who are married with children like to boast about that. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a candidate brag about not being married or not having kids, or even acknowledge their marital or parental status in their biographies, except perhaps for single mothers.
Nonetheless, a new set of analyses at the level of congressional districts suggests the possibility that representatives actually are attuned to their unmarried constituents.
Congressional representatives with more unmarried people in their districts are less supportive of Trump’s agenda
For each member of the House of Representatives, there is a measure summarizing the level of support that congressperson has given to President Trump’s agenda. This measure of support for Trump can in turn be correlated with various characteristics of the congressperson’s district, such as the proportion of people who are married. That’s what University of Toronto instructor Patrick Adler did, in analyses described by Richard Florida for CityLab.
If you click here, you can see the graph showing the correlations between the demographics of the districts and the level of support that the districts’ representatives gave to Trump’s agenda. The key results relevant to marital status are the proportion who are married, and the proportion who are single, defined in the graph as never married. (Married and never married are not just flip sides, because people who are not married also include some who were previously married.)
Other demographic characteristics shown in the graph are homeowners and renters; people who drive to work alone and people who take mass transit; white and non-white; non-citizens; and college graduates.
The first thing to notice is that there is no bigger correlation than the one for single (never married) people. The greater the proportion of never-married people in the district, the less likely the district’s representative was to support Trump’s agenda. The correlation of -.67 is quite substantial. The correlation with the proportion of married people is impressive, too, at +.53. This means that the more married people congressional representatives have in their districts, the more likely they are to support Trump’s agenda.
We hear a lot about people with college degrees and how their voting patterns differ from people who do not have as much education. That does matter. In Adler’s analyses, representatives of districts with a higher proportion of college graduates were less likely to support Trump’s agenda. That correlation, -.28, though meaningful, is a lot less impressive than the correlation of -.67 for the proportion of single people, or +.53 for the proportion of married people.
Two other demographic characteristics were nearly as important as marital status: race, and whether constituents are homeowners or renters. Districts with greater proportions of white constituents had representatives who were more likely to support Trump’s agenda, +.56; districts with greater proportions of non-white constituents were less likely to do so, -.56. Representatives of districts with a greater proportion of homeowners were more likely to support Trump’s agenda, +.55, while representatives of districts with a greater proportion of renters were much less likely to support Trump’s agenda, -.57.
In the graph, I assumed that “married” meant the proportion of married constituents and “single (never-married)” meant the proportion of never-married constituents, though that is not spelled out. From the text, it appears that Adler also analyzed the data by households (and not just by individuals). Here’s Florida’s summary:
“Representatives from districts with a larger share of married households are significantly more likely to support Trump’s legislative agenda, while those in districts with a large share of single or non-married households are not.”
The results of these kinds of analyses are only suggestive. They demonstrate links between the predominance of unmarried people in a district and the voting behavior of that district’s representative, but there is no way of knowing, from those data alone, whether the representatives were less supportive of Trump’s agenda because they had so many unmarried people in their district.
Here’s another complication. If unmarried people are disproportionately represented among the other relevant groups, we can’t know for sure whether marital status is what mattered most. For example, if unmarried people in the districts were more likely to be renters and more likely to use mass transit, maybe their representatives’ voting behavior was more responsive to those factors than to marital status. In some academic papers, analyses are conducted that can get at that issue, but that does not appear to be the case here.
What unmarried constituents want: An example from a single woman’s letter to her state representative
A lot of what we have discussed here at Unmarried Equality over the years are the issues that matter most to unmarried Americans. Jaclyn Geller, a professor of Restoration and Eighteenth-Century Studies in Central Connecticut State University’s English Department, who wrote Here Comes the Bride: Women, Weddings, and the Marriage Mystique, sent me a copy of the letter she sent to her state representative, with permission to share some excerpts with you here.
I received a flyer announcing your campaign for state representative in district 8. I want to vote for you but may not be able to.
Here’s why: there is nothing in your agenda on furthering the rights of never-married or unmarried Connecticut residents. As the outspoken lesbian scholar Katherine Franke reminds us, when gay marriage became legal in our state, non-marital families and non-standard households (straight and gay) lost what few protections they had. Civil unions were banished. I was not alone in feeling the pain. My boyfriend almost died from a post-surgical bleed when he had part of his colon removed. At the time I was fretting about bills, since I could not put him on my health plan, despite the fact that I’m a tenured CCSU professor, and we’ve been together longer than many of my married colleagues. My friend and mentor has also had health issues and may need assistance at some point. The American Family Leave Act won’t grant me time away from work to care for him. We’ve been together for thirty years. Yet the act would allow me to take paid leave to care for a man or woman I had known for two weeks, as long as we were married. I can’t name my nephew or anyone else as a Social Security beneficiary; my contributions go right back into the system. The list of injustices goes on.
Your flyer promises to give families economic security, but it seems you mean only married families. If you expand your concern to mean most (that’s right) American families, you have my vote. If you plan to address the fact that I perform the same job for different pay than my co-workers, since I can’t add another adult to my health plan, I will vote for you and contribute financially to your campaign. If not, on election day I’ll instead work to raise consciousness of the marital/non-marital wage gap and the lack of non-marital rights where immigration, estate tax, and other bedrock benefits are concerned.
In elections, marital status matters. Showing up to vote matters even more.
I hope Professor Geller votes and all other unmarried Americans do, too. Analyses of voting in Presidential elections show that marital status matters. As I discussed in a previous column, married men often favor Republicans, whereas unmarried women are more reliable supporters of Democrats – especially if they have never been married.
A problem, though, is that unmarried constituents are less likely to vote. If that changes, maybe our issues will be taken more seriously.