Newsweek ignores women’s faith

MaryNewsweek‘s cover story this week focuses on the historical and social roots of female voters’ embrace, so far at least, of Gov. Sarah Palin.

Its lede hints at the story’s theme: for all of the celebration in 1984 of Geraldine Ferraro as the first female on the ticket of a major presidential party, she was opposed by traditional female voters:

[W]hat Ferraro was most surprised by, in focus groups convened after the election, was that stay-at-home mothers had been horrified by her candidacy, despite the fact that her three children were teenagers. “What we found was that some women felt intimidated,” she says now. How would their husbands view them if they were just staying at home rather than shattering glass ceilings and conquering the world? “I thought, ‘God almighty, how did that happen?’ … They thought it would somehow hurt them. That if I could do all these things — be a supermom or whatever — how would it look for them, if ‘all’ they were doing was taking care of their children at home?” They wondered, she says, if it would jeopardize their marriages.

Nearly a quarter of a century later, Sarah Palin is also being grilled about her capacity to negotiate with the Soviets (well, the Russians, but they are acting like Soviets at the moment), asked if she will still cook for her family if elected vice president and praised for her chic glasses and copper highlights. But this time, women are flocking to her, cheering her can-do attitude and her unabashed embrace of the hockey-mom label. After her nomination as the Republicans’ vice presidential candidate, the Washington Post/ABC poll reported a remarkable 20-point shift toward McCain. The new NEWSWEEK Poll also finds that some movement occurred: in July, John McCain led Barack Obama among white women by 44 to 39 percent; now his lead is 53 to 37 percent.

The story continues on in this vein. The authors allow that gender is important to female voters, but stress that it is hardly all-important:

All things being equal between candidates, however, there is evidence to suggest that women are increasingly likely to support female candidates because they are women — if they believe there are too few women in positions of power. But gender remains only one consideration of many.

What, you might ask, are those considerations? The story mentions the conventional sociological categories — race, family status, and class. But it fails to explore — indeed, it barely touches on — two crucial considerations: marital status and religious affiliation.

In the 2004 election, pollster Anna Greenberg found that marital status was a big fault line among voters:

The marriage gap is a defining dynamic in today’s politics, eclipsing the gender gap, with marital status a significant predictor of the vote, independent of the effects of age, race, income, education or gender. Marital status had a significant effect on the way in these voters performed, whereas a voter’s gender did not. Younger unmarried women supported Kerry while younger married women supported Bush.

Marital status is related to religiosity. As scholar Brad Wilcox has shown, the more religious you are, the more likely you are to be married.

Also, the political scientists Earl and Merle Black have shown that religious affiliation shapes female voters’ attitudes. Mainline Protestant women have moved away from the GOP; Catholic women away from the Democratic Party; and evangelical women sticking with the GOP.

Newsweek‘s story misses these two important elements. It mentions marital status only a few times; and does not mention religious affiliation at all.

Come on, Newsweek. Are we to believe that faith and religious affiliation have played no role in female politics? Haven’t you read your Tocqueville, especially his line about women safeguarding American religion? Sure, gender, class, and race shape female behavior. But doesn’t religion, too?

Apparently not. Which is why Newsweek‘s story did not get religion at all.

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  • Chris Bolinger

    Newsweek’s story did not get religion at all.

    Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to find a Newsweek story that does.

    This tape will self-destruct in five seconds.

  • Wonders for Oyarsa

    Hi Mark,

    The criticism of the press’ handling of religion here is good stuff, and important to be heard. Do folks at Newsweek (for instance) regularly hear your critiques of their stories. If not, perhaps it would be a good exercise to regularly mail the appropriate posts to the appropriate news agencies.

  • Sarah Webber


    You are supposing that they care. I’m not sure they do.

  • Maureen

    Um, I don’t remember my mother being “intimidated” by Ferraro. More like she thought Ferraro was an annoying politician who kept trading on her gender, but whom nobody would conceivably want to vote for. OTOH, she certainly wasn’t annoyed by Ferraro as much as she was Hillary.

    And if Sharon Ferraro had been born Shawn Ferraro, or Hillary had been Hill Rodham, would they magically have been less disliked, or more charismatic? Honestly, I doubt it.

    Although I do kinda like the name “Hill Rodham”. Sounds like a soap opera character. :)

  • Maureen

    Ooops. I forgot her name is Geraldine Ferraro. (I think that was an 80′s moment, and I confused her with Sharon Gless.)

    And Ferraro’s her married name, isn’t it? Sorry, but I was only up on the Republicans when I was 14. :)

  • Wonders for Oyarsa


    They may care, or they may not. But it just seems like it would be a worthwhile thing to send them the observations, whether or not they choose to listen.

  • Perpetua

    Marital status is an important aspect of social class. Talking about social class without specifying marital status is misleading, as it is misleading to leave out home ownership. A woman who is “working class” who is married and a homeowner is actually in a very different social class from a woman who is “working class” who is unmarried with children out of wedlock and renting an apartment.

  • Dave

    Mark, the difference in women’s response to Ferraro’s and Palin’s candidacies may reflect nothing more than the 24 years interving, in which popular ideas of what it is possible for a woman to do have expanded. Occam’s Razor favors this explanation and absolves the medium of failing to get religion in this instance.