Newsweek‘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.