Married citizens lead in voter turnout, U study finds

By By Travis Currit

By Travis Currit

In the aftermath of the 2004 election, many pundits and analysts credited Bush’s re-election on the often religiously motivated “values voters,” who turned out to vote out in droves.

However, new research by Nicholas Wolfinger, professor of family and consumer studies, provides evidence of another group whose high voter turnout might influence elections: married people. He found that married citizens, about 58 percent of the population, made up 65 percent of the voters in the 2000 presidential election.

Wolfinger co-authored the study with his father, Raymond E. Wolfinger, professor emeritus at University of California, Berkeley, and read at a meeting of the American Political Science Association in Philadelphia.

The Wolfingers argued that family structure-defined as marital status and the presence of children-should be added to the traditional categories of age, education and residential stability as influencing political participation. To prove this, the authors examined data from a sample of more than 73,000 citizens collected by the Census Bureau.

Controlling for other demographic differences, married citizens vote more than those in any other family arrangement.

On the other hand, “previously married people are the lightest voters,” according to the survey. This was especially true for newly separated single parents, who voted the least of all.

For someone in the midst of the trauma of family separation, voting is understandably not a key concern. However, Wolfinger speculated that the lack of voting by newly divorced or unwed parents-identified as “vulnerable social groups”-might cause them to be “proportionately underrepresented in policy making.”

Philip Lockette, a senior studying writing, was not surprised by the idea that married people vote more often.

“I would say married people have a greater stake in society,” Lockette said.

As homeowners and parents, married people “would vote in elections concerning taxes, property, school boards and other little things” that unmarried people might not be as concerned about, Lockette said.

Sue Weierman, a senior in English teaching, agreed that “once you have children, you start thinking about the future,” and are thus more likely to vote, she said.

But Wolfinger found that, when controlled for age, childless couples and those with children vote at the same rate. He suggested married people vote because they share the “administrative details” of voting: registration, obtaining absentee ballots and remembering to go to the polls.

College students-who are traditionally young, have no degree and change residences every nine months- land squarely in the “not likely to vote” category, as per the traditional voting indicators.

But for U students, family structure could be one factor pointing in the opposite direction. Nevertheless, college voter turnout remains low.

Dan Jones, professor of political science, said that family structure certainly plays a role, but the main reason for college students’ not voting is “just plain apathy.” He said efforts to increase young-voter turnout concentrate on involvement in issues and campaigns.

Courtney McBeth, intern manager for the Hinckley Institute of Politics, agreed. Her research showed that students with a political involvement experience, such as an internship with the institute, vote at twice the national average.