WPost still gets ‘Julia’ vote, but what about church ladies?

The other day I wrote a post about a Washington Post story about the upcoming elections that managed to do something really interesting: It addressed the challenges Democrats are facing as they try to frame issues going into the midterm elections in ways that would inspire their voters, yet managed to do so without mentioning the ongoing “pew gap” factor.

You remember the pew gap don’t you? It’s the trend, during recent decades, in which people who frequently attend worship services (especially among white voters) tend to vote for morally and culturally conservative candidates. And the opposite?

Thus, a key passage in that Post report discussed:

So much has been made of the building blocks the president assembled to win his two elections — the outpouring of voters younger than 30; the long lines at precincts in African American communities; the support he engendered among the rising Hispanic population; the growing support for him and Democrats generally among unmarried women. …

Obama hopes to stir his base to action and in the past two weeks has been trying to push all the buttons.

The story contained tons of valid and interesting info. I simply wanted to know how the Post team could address this topic with zero references to the impact of religion on American public life and, yes, voting patterns. For example, I suggested that there might be a religion ghost linked to the fact that Democrats do so well with single women (think “Julia”), while Republicans draw strong support among married women.

Now, the big paper here in Beltway land is back with a long A1 report under the headline: “Women could be critical to key races, and both parties are going all out to get their votes.” Here’s a key block of summary material:

Republicans have watched with rising alarm as female voters, especially younger and unmarried ones, have moved toward ­Democratic hopefuls. Democrats have exploited inarticulate or sexist remarks by some Republicans and harsh antiabortion measures passed in GOP-led legislatures or sponsored by party candidates.

In Washington, Democratic lawmakers have also pushed bills designed to draw a contrast, including this month’s Paycheck Fairness Act, which died in the Senate. President Obama instead signed two executive orders designed to advance equal pay. As a result, the gender gap has grown in recent election years to Democrats’ advantage. Women make up a larger percentage of the electorate than men, they are disproportionately likely to go to the polls in midterm election years, and they are more likely to vote Democratic than men are to vote Republican.

Notice that, at this point, the story is making little or no effort to discuss the divisions inside the women’s vote, which is hardly monolithic.

But later on, there is this:

Both parties spin their own version of political algebra that they say will work to their advantage.

Though female voters outnumber male ones in midterm elections, those who turn out are more likely to be married, older, whiter and wealthier than the larger number of women who vote for president, all indicators that suggest they are more apt to lean Republican.

To turn out more of its voters, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is spending millions of dollars on identifying and targeting unmarried women, among other constituencies that are highly likely to vote Democratic but far less likely to vote in a midterm election.

A crucial, but unstated question: How do male Democrats run against culturally conservative Republican women? Might there be a religion ghost or two in there? Apparently not.

And toward the very end:

… (The) GOP still faces challenges in addressing a younger generation of voters, one in which women overwhelmingly vote Democratic. The National Republican Congressional Committee let it be known last year that it was proactively teaching candidates how to speak to female voters; Democrats didn’t miss the opportunity to point out that was a subject that needed teaching. This year, Republicans will try to avoid language that might be perceived as sexist against two of the most vulnerable Democratic incumbents, Sens. Mary Landrieu (La.) and Kay Hagan (N.C.), and two women running for Republican-held seats in Kentucky and Georgia.

The electoral key lies among unmarried women, who favor Democrats by huge margins but don’t always turn out to vote, said Lara Brown, a political scientist at George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management. Obama won unmarried women by 36 points in 2012; Romney won among married women by seven. But in 2010, when fewer unmarried women turned out to vote, Democratic candidates for Congress won the barest plurality among women, while Republicans won among male voters by a 13-point margin.

Once again, journalists need to combine these interesting numbers about single women and young voters with the social, moral and religious factors uncovered in that justifiably famous Pew Forum study on the “nones” — the religiously unaffiliated. Religious and moral issues — issues about sex and marriage — are at the heart of this divide in the electorate.

It would also help if more reporters familiarized themselves with the actual numbers about what American voters, including women and young people in general, actually think about abortion (click here for Gallup material over the years). The numbers are very muddled and feelings are quite mixed, including among women. Yes, part of the gap is between single women and married women.

In other words, it is simplistic to talk about a singular “women’s vote,” just as it is simplistic to talk about a single “Catholic vote.” If journalists explore the divisions inside the women’s vote, they will straight into discussions of marriage, family, children and, yes, religious faith.

In midterm elections, it really pays to sweat the details on these kinds of patterns. You know that the strategists for the two parties know all about that, so why are these details MIA for mainstream journalists?

IMAGE: You remember the whole “Life of Julia” media storm?

About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Carlh

    Probably needn’t be said (again), but in the rarefied world of WaPo (and the rest of the culturally isolated, but self-congratulatory elite), “church lades” are only fit subjects for Saturday Night Live send-ups, not serious “journalistic” attention.

    • tmatt

      The headline was kind of a send-up of that attitude.

  • Darren Blair

    A little known chapter of American history goes as follows –

    In the 1800s, Utah gave women the right to vote. In short order, the “Mormon Women” voting bloc became one of the dominant swing blocs in the state. In particular, they almost overwhelmingly voted in favor of continuing the practice of plural marriage. This caused a great deal of consternation back East, with the folks in Washington citing this as “proof” that women were too irresponsible to have the right to vote since they kept voting against their “best interests” and the critics of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints arguing that this was “proof” of the church tampering with elections. Rather than investigate these allegations, Congress simply made it illegal for Mormons and women living in Utah to vote. A rider to this effect was included on one of the many anti-polygamy bills coming out of Washington, the end result being that womens’ suffrage was set back several decades.

    Nobody wanted to take the time to figure out why Mormon women tended to vote the way that they did, and as a result the powers-that-be decided to marginalize them and write them off.

    Similarly, it would seem that the author of the article did not want to take the time to figure out why married women tend to vote GOP and why they are more reliably showing up to the polls. Thus, these women are marginalized and written off in favor of the young women who vote as the author seemingly thinks that they should.

  • http://www.thebigtruth.com/ Tragic Christian

    I wonder how this fits the trend of young people leaving church, then returning when they have families. Most of these young single women, less likely to vote, who are courted by the Democrats will become the older married women , more likely to vote, who seem to skew Republican.


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