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13 December 2012

If marriage dies then conservatism will die with it

Screen Shot 2012-12-13 at 08.00.47Shell-shocked Republicans are still trying to work out how they managed to lose to Barack Obama. Demographic change is one of the favoured explanations/excuses – in particular the growth of America’s Hispanic population.

However, in an important piece for the Weekly Standard, Jonathan Last argues that there’s another, much more important demographic factor at work – the growing number of unmarried voters:  

  • "Singles broke decisively for Obama. Though his margins with them were lower than they were in 2008, he still won them handily: Obama was +16 among single men and +36 with single women. But the real news wasn’t how singles broke​—​it was that their share of the total vote increased by a whopping 6 percentage points.  
  • "To put this in some perspective, the wave of Hispanic voters we’ve heard so much about increased its share of the total vote from 2008 to 2012 by a single point, roughly 1.27 million voters."  

The decline of marriage in America is quite extraordinary (though by no means uniquely so in the western world). With more people marrying later or not at all – and high levels of divorce among those who do marry – potential voters are about as likely to be single as hitched: 

  • "…over half of the voting-age population in America​—​and 40 percent of the people who actually showed up to vote this time around​—​are single." 

Some might say that the GOP, as a party that stands for traditional family values, is alienating those who, by choice or circumstance, find themselves living other lifestyles. However, as Last explains, the decline of marriage poses a much more fundamental threat to conservatism – one that can’t be appeased with a little message adjustment: 

  • "At the individual level, there’s nothing wrong with forgoing marriage. But at scale, it is a dangerous proposition for a society. That’s because marriage, as an institution, is helpful to all involved. Survey after survey has shown that married people are happier, wealthier, and healthier than their single counterparts. All of the research suggests that having married parents dramatically improves the well-being of children, both in their youth and later as adults." 

Viewed in practical terms, marriage is a support system and in its absence people turn to alternative support systems – not least, the state: 

  • "As Robert George put it after the election, limited government ‘cannot be maintained where the marriage culture collapses and families fail to form or easily dissolve. Where these things happen, the health, education, and welfare functions of the family will have to be undertaken by someone, or some institution, and that will sooner or later be the government.’" 

It is, when you think about it, a blindingly obvious point. Yet many so-called ‘liberal conservatives’ still believe that one can be a conservative on economic matters, but a liberal on social issues.

Good luck with that:

  • "The two greatest institutions ever devised for lifting people out of poverty and enabling them to live in dignity are the market economy and the institution of marriage. These institutions will, in the end, stand or fall together."


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