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August 15, 2007
Column #1,355
"The American Family Divide"
(Part I of a two-part series)
by Mike McManus

Why are the "Blue States" of the Northeast and the West Coast so liberal and the "Red States" of the South and the lower Midwest so conservative?

Which states have approved of gay marriage? Only Massachusetts but gay civil unions, which is marriage without the name, were approved in the Blue States of Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, New Jersey. "Domestic Partnerships," which are virtual civil unions, have been passed by California, Washington, Hawaii and Oregon.

On the other hand, 27 states have approved constitutional amendments to limit marriage to one man and one woman. They include every southern state from South Carolina across to Texas, then straight north through the Midwest to North Dakota and Montana plus other mountain states of Idaho, Utah, Colorado and even Nevada Red States.

Why is there such a marriage division in America?  "The Red/Blue American Family Divide" report in the "State of the Unions 2007" notes the marriage rate of Arkansas, Idaho, Wyoming and Utah is TWO to THREE times that of Northeastern states! Those four Red States have between 58 and 77 weddings per 1,000 single women.

At the bottom of the marriage barrel are Pennsylvania with only 24 marriages per 1000 women, New Jersey (27), Delaware and Connecticut at 28.

"Higher marriage rates are associated with less non-marital cohabitation, and this also clusters geographically along Red/Blue lines," writes David Popenoe and Barbara Dafoe Whitehead in the Red/Blue report of the National Marriage Project at Rutgers.

Only 6 percent of Alabama residents are cohabiting and 8 percent each in Mississippi, Kansas and Arkansas.  Twice as many are cohabiting in Vermont (14 percent), Maine (13 percent), and Oregon plus Washington State at 12 percent.

Similarly, the states with the highest fertility are Red States of Idaho, with 77 births per 1,000 women plus Kansas and Georgia at 70 babies.  Compare that to Vermont at 51; Maine, 54 and Massachusetts, 57.

By contrast, the states with the highest abortion rates are Blue and their rates are six to THIRTY-NINE times higher than Red pro-life states, such as Wyoming with only one abortion per 1,000 women, and Kentucky at 5.3, South Dakota's 5.5, Mississippi at 6.0 and Missouri, 6.6 Compare those numbers with what Heritage Foundation's Pat Fagan called "the pro-death states:" New York at 39 per 1,000, New Jersey, 36.3; Delaware, 31.1 and California, 31.2. 

"Put it all together, these demographic characteristics add up to the more married couples with children in the Red states and fewer in the Blue states, and this is one of the biggest reasons for the Red/Blue political divide," write Popenoe and Whitehead.

"For recent elections the correlation between married-with-children and voting Republican is one of the highest ever found between demographic factors and voting behavior."

Every Democratic Presidential candidate favors repealing the Defense of Marriage Act, though it was signed by President Bill Clinton in 1996.  The law limits marriage to heterosexual couples, and would block Social Security payments  to survivors of gay marriage.

However, there are moral chinks in the armor of the Red States, which have the highest divorce rates and the highest percentages of babies born out-of-wedlock.  Half of the babies born in Mississippi and Louisiana are to unwed parents which is double the rate of New Hampshire.

A complicating factor is the extremely high black rate of 77 percent and the 50 percent rate of Hispanics.  The white rate of unwed births in Mississippi is 26 percent, lower than New Hampshire's 27 percent.

Massachusetts and Pennsylvania are tied for the lowest divorce rates at 11 divorces per 1,000 married couples per year, while Arkansas and Oklahoma are more than twice as high at 25 divorces each per 1,000, and West Virginia, at 23.

I asked David Popenoe why the divorce rate is so low in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. He replied, those states are " highly educated, who tend to have lower divorce rates. They are also more Catholic, which has an effect." Indeed, half of Massachusetts residents and a third of Pennsylvanians are Catholic..

His report explains a lot.  However, it does not predict who will win future elections.

According to the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, only 28 percent of Americans view Republicans favorably, and by nearly 20 points, respondents would like to see a Democratic President in the White House.  In 2004, Republican candidates won a majority of Independents, but lost their vote by 18 percent in 2006.

What can Presidential candidates do to capture more of the family vote? 

Offer proposals to strengthen marriage.  Next week I will suggest some initiatives.

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