Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Search for the Next Dayton Housewife

Karlyn Bowman and Ruy Teixeira provide an intereting analysis of this year's election demographics, at the Wall Street Journal:

Ben Wattenberg and Richard Scammon introduced us to the Dayton housewife in their famous 1970 book, "The Real Majority." She was blue-collar and from middle America. She was middle aged and her views were moderate. Since their pioneering work, analysts, pundits and soothsayers have followed in hot pursuit, looking for the group holding the keys to the next presidential election.

In recent years, angry white men, soccer moms and Nascar dads have joined their Dayton housewife. Today's leading contender for the Democrats appears to be waitress moms.

There's usually some truth to the political shorthand, but only some. Soccer moms, supposedly college-educated women with children who lived in the suburbs, were 1996's great political icon. But most suburban women are not college educated, large numbers do not have children, and together those two groups were more important in that election than their college-educated cousins. This fact was lost in the buzz.

Still, the evolution of American politics is bound up with demographic and geographic change. So what are the trends to watch in 2008? A number of them will be examined today at an American Enterprise Institute-Brookings Institution conference featuring leading demographers and geographers.

The authors highlight a number of changing trends in the electorate:

    • Hispanic voters are becoming increasingly important.
    • Evangelicals are an important, but not overwhelming, force.
    • The influence married voters have on elections is declining.
    • The suburbs are the contested terrain.
    • America's shifting class structure has reduced the white working class's political role.
    • People are becoming increasingly likely to live close to those who look, act and think like them.
The discussion of married voters caught my attention:

Married voters typically vote solidly Republican and married voters with children even more so. But their representation in the national electorate is waning, as are some values to which these groups have traditionally been linked. According to Tom Smith of the National Opinion Research Center, two-parent families with kids at home were 23% of the population in 2006, down from 45% in 1972. The proportion of never-married adults rose to nearly a quarter of the electorate between 1972 and 2006, up from 15%. Overall, never-married, divorced, or widowed women are now a narrow majority of adult women, and unmarried households are now a majority of the nation's households. The growing, unmarried slice of the electorate is tilting Democratic.

That's a striking figure for "familied" couples with children. Married couple recently slipped to minority status in Census statisics on the American demography, but the number of married without children is pushing nearly 2 in 10 of the population.

Certainly that's an advantageous demographic trend for the Democrats, as those identifying as members of non-traditional family structures increasingly find themselves on the left side of the political divide.

I guess some of those Dayton housewives we might find'll be childless.