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Opinion: Columnists

Republicans can't leave unmarried Americans behind

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Opinion,Philip Klein,Columnists,Barack Obama,Republican Party,2012 Elections,Conservatism,Gender Issues,Marriage,Magazine

During my days as a single man, few questions were more obnoxious than variations of, “Don’t you ever think about settling down and getting married?”

The question was presented as if the only obstacle to getting married were a switch going off in my brain and me simply deciding to do so. It ignored the difficulty of meeting somebody with whom I’d want to spend the rest of my life.

My story has a happy ending. I eventually met the most wonderful woman in the world and have since joined the ranks of the married. But I know that a lot of really good people haven’t had the same luck in the frustrating dating world — and their status has nothing to do with whether they want to be single for the rest of their lives.

There are also people who have tried and failed at marriage, often through no fault of their own. And there are still others who have, in fact, made an affirmative decision not to get married, or at least to de-prioritize marriage in favor of other life ambitions.

The reason I raise these issues is that there’s been a lot of discussion about what conservatives can do to make their message more appealing to various groups of the electorate, but these discussions often leave out unmarried voters.

Republicans, it is said, have a female voter problem. But what they really have is an unmarried female voter problem. In the 2012 election, according to exit polls, Mitt Romney beat President Obama among married women voters by a 53 percent to 46 percent margin. But among unmarried women, Obama won 67 percent of the vote, which compares to just 31 percent for Romney.

Overall, Romney won married voters by a 14-point margin, and this group comprised 60 percent of the electorate. But unfortunately for Republicans, Obama carried unmarried voters — who comprise 40 percent of the electorate — by a whopping 27 points.

There could be alternate demographic explanations for this performance. For instance, younger voters and black Americans overwhelmingly voted for Obama, and they have lower marriage rates relative to older voters and whites.

But I can’t help but wonder whether Republicans are hurt by the impression that they have nothing to offer unmarried voters.

Now, there are plenty of reasons for conservatives and Republicans to place an emphasis on the importance of stable marriages. Data consistently show that children of intact two-parent homes have better outcomes when it comes to measures such as educational attainment and poverty.

As Jonathan Last detailed in his book What to Expect When No One's Expecting, low fertility rates represent a demographic time bomb, threatening economic growth and the sustainability of our nation's entitlements.

No doubt, reforms should attack distortions in the tax code and government programs that create barriers or disincentives to family formation. Yet unmarried Americans shouldn’t be made to feel neglected. If they don’t want to be lectured by their family and friends about their marital status, they certainly don’t want to feel as though they’re being condescended to by politicians.

Married couples who are assuming the burdens of having and raising children are making an important contribution to the nation’s future. Their sacrifices should be honored and appreciated by society, and that should be reflected in government policy.

But there has to be a way to push sensible limited-government policy reforms without making unmarried Americans feel left out.

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