Data on Marriage and Births Reflects the Political Divide

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Data on Marriage and Births Reflects the Political Divide

Newspaper article

By: Tamar Lewin

Date: October 13, 2005

Source: Lewin, Tamar. "Data on Marriage and Births Reflects the Political Divide." New York Times. (October 13, 2005).

About the Author: Tamar Lewin is a journalist employed by the New York Times. Lewin specializes in articles that examine issues pertaining to education. The New York Times was first published in 1851 and is among the nation's largest daily newspapers, with a circulation of over one million copies.


The political divide noted in the following newspaper article is not the first such division to be examined in the history of American politics. Geography has been a recurring fault line in the politics of the United States, both those running between the North and the South and later divisions arising between the eastern and the western states of the Union. The North/South division in political opinion was the most prominent such feature from the beginnings of the nativist movement in the late 1840s to the civil rights campaigns that continued into the 1960s.

The particular political divide identified here is one of relatively recent origin. The description of the national political interests as being those of the red states (generally conservative voters and supporters of the Republican Party nationally) or blue states (more liberal minded voters and supporters of the Democratic Party nationally) is a type of political analysis that likely began during the 1992 presidential election campaign. Red state/blue state was a form of political pundit shorthand; it is now an expression entrenched in the language of American political commentary.

When the red state/blue state analysis is applied to the results of the 1960 and 1980 presidential elections, the context in which the contemporary political divide must be examined becomes clear. The 1960 election campaign contested between Republican Richard Nixon and Democrat John F. Kennedy ended in one of the closest results in American history, as the candidates were separated by a 0.2 percent margin of the popular vote. Kennedy carried states such as Texas, Louisiana, and Georgia, all of which are now "red" Republican areas on the electoral map. In 1980, Ronald Reagan of the Republican Party swept to power on the strength of his success in forty-four out of the fifty states. Using the modern red state/blue state analysis, it would be difficult to find any political division in the face of such a mammoth and sweeping electoral victory. Just as voter attitudes do not remain fixed to a particular geographic area, the philosophy and the political positions of each party change from election to election.

The political divide described in the following newspaper article is one that has been established as a consequence of the similar results achieved by the Republican and the Democratic presidential candidates in the successive election campaigns of 2000 and 2004. The red states and blue states remained unchanged but for two after the 2004 election; the red states are located in the north central, central, south central, and Southern regions of the United States, with the blue regions comprised of the Northeast, upper Midwest, and West coast states.


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The data gathered by the United States Bureau of Census regarding birth and marriage statistics on a state-by-state basis is significant on a number of different levels. The analysis of the data by means of the 'red state/blue state" comparison begs the question of whether the moral values implicit in the birth and marriage statistics are evidence of voter attitudes, or alternatively, whether the voters were influenced by factors unrelated to moral questions, such as economic performance or homeland security. Based upon a strict cause and effect relationship between the census data and the presidential electoral results, it might be said that an unwed mother is more likely to vote Republican. This is not a sound conclusion due to the myriad of factors both personal to the voter and of broader concern that are certain to impact the result of any given election campaign.

Additional statistical analysis provided by the United States Bureau of Census places the political divide that is sought to be highlighted by birth and marriage data into a clearer focus. A salient example is the fact that nine of the ten lowest birth rates reported by the census are found in the blue or Democratic states. These regions also reported a lower divorce rate than those typically found in the red or Republican states. The blue states also reported a correspondingly higher number of married partners in family units than those found in the red states.

The political division represented by red and blue states is of particular interest when the census projections of future population growth are considered. The eight states predicted to experience the greatest degree of population growth are all currently red states, including Florida and Texas. The question for future demographic study will be whether the persons added to the populations of the current red states adopt the current voting preferences of the state to which they have migrated.

It may be argued that the entire red state/blue state analysis is a tenuous one in light of how American presidential and Congressional elections are waged in practice. Given that the American system is one based upon the principle of "first past the post", where the winner of the most votes by plurality is the electoral victor, the division does not reflect the relatively thin victory margin enjoyed by the Republican party and George Bush in both the 2000 and 2004 elections that created the political divide described in the primary source. The Democratic candidate Al Gore won approximately 500,000 more votes nationally than George W. Bush in 2000; however, by virtue of the American Electoral College system, the states carried by Bush were sufficient to win the presidency. Had a key populous state such as Florida (and its significant number of electoral college votes) gone to the blue side of the ledger in either of these elections, the Democrats may have prevailed and thus, rendered the political divide described in the primary source invisible.

Further, the red state/blue state analysis is founded upon the results of the presidential popular vote. In 2004, 60.7 percent of all eligible voters nationwide actually cast their ballot, the highest such total recorded since 1968. The red state/blue state division is one resulting from the successful presidential candidate garnering a majority of the sixty percent of the population that voted, as opposed to the census data that is reflective of the entire population. For this reason, the true political sentiments of a state may not fit the birth and marriage data from the census.

Of further significance is the fact that the marriage and birth data from the census that is contrasted against the American electoral map was never a specific campaign issue in either the 2000 or 2004 presidential elections. Birth rates, particularly among single mothers, may be, but cannot be exclusively attributed to, the larger moral questions of family planning and religious values; marriage statistics are similarly often a function of factors such as a decision to cohabit prior to making a decision to marry, or the economic choices associated with career pursuits versus marriage and family.

The impact of immigration upon birth and marriage rates is a factor that is likely to be one of continuing importance given the ever increasing influence of immigration upon American demographics. In 2006, it is estimated that the country housed over thirty-three million immigrants, or one immigrant person for every nine residents of the United States. While the modern American immigrant community is not homogeneous, it has large segments of Hispanic and south East Asian people who tend to marry and have children within a traditional family structure. The contrast between immigrant birth and marriage practices and the electoral map may become skewed in the near future, as voting rights in American presidential and Congressional elections are only permitted to full citizens of the United States.



Davis, Don. One State, Two State, Red State, Blue State. Shelbyville, Kentucky: Wasteland Press, 2005.

Longman, Phillip. The Empty Cradle. New York: Basic Books, 2004.

Wilson, James Q. The Marriage Problem: How Our Culture has Weakened Families. Toronto: Harper Collins Canada, 2003.

Web sites

The United States Bureau of Census. "State Population Increase Projections." 2005, 〈〉 (accessed June 29, 2006).