Do Your Politics Affect Who You Love?
If you vote yes for love, that's enough... or is it?
Posted Sep 07, 2016
When it comes to love, opposites don’t attract.* It's similarity, typically, that brings people together. So in today’s partisan world, how does your political party affiliation influence the dating game? Do politics matter when it comes to love?
Maybe not! It’s possible that political party affiliation doesn’t matter when people are looking for their romantic partners. Case in point: Democratic political consultant James Carville and long-time Republican strategist (now Libertarian) Mary Matalin have a marriage that’s lasted over 20 years and is still going strong. They not only have opposing political perspectives, but their politics are central to their professional identities. Maybe political party is irrelevant when choosing a life partner.
Other evidence supports this idea, suggesting that people sort on other demographics (e.g., race) more than by political party (Huber & Malhotra, 2012).
But maybe politics do matter. Pew Research (2014) suggests that those who identify with a political party want to live with people who share their political views. Further, they tend not to want their children to marry outside of that affiliation. This connects nicely with trends showing that we gravitate towards like-minded people, and we can create social worlds (e.g., on Facebook) that insulate us from opposing viewpoints. Perhaps political affiliation might make a difference when choosing a romantic partner.
What does the research say? A new study out of Yale University (Hersh & Ghitza, 2016) tackled the question of political affiliation and marriage. The authors obtained voter registration data linked to residential addresses, identified households of married couples, and analyzed their sample of over 18 million American heterosexual couples. Their goal was to look at the rates of inter-party marriages and to describe them and then they examined how these marriages affected voting behavior.
How often do Democrats and Republicans get married? Political party affiliation might not be at the forefront of individuals’ dating decisions, but it appears to be linked to their long-term relationship choices. About 70% of couples share political affiliations. In detail, 25% of the sample were Democrats married to Democrats, 30% were Republicans married to Republicans, and 15% of registered Independents were married to other Independents.
This means that 30% of married couples differ in their political viewpoints. Of that 30% (which includes registered Independents), only 9% of marriages were Democratic-Republican. Among these mixed-party marriages, husbands were twice as likely to be Republican and the wives Democrats, than the reverse combination. An analysis by age showed that only 40% of voters under 30 were both Democrats or both Republicans, meaning that younger people weren't as consistently matching their partners on party affiliation. Meanwhile, almost three quarters of couples over the age of 80 shared party affiliations.
The authors suggest that people do sort themselves by political party, but it’s not as powerful a sorting criteria as other demographics. They compared the same-party marriage rate (71%) to the same-race marriages (93%) using data from a subset of states that included voters’ racial identity, and noted that mixed-party couples are far more frequent that mixed-race couples.
What happens if you’re in a mixed-party marriage? The authors identified an interesting effect of spousal party affiliation looking specifically at voter turnout. Controlling for other demographic variables (e.g., race, gender), people in same-party marriages are much more likely to vote, especially in primaries.
Taken together, how do we explain these findings? It could be that people tend to marry people who share their political affiliations because political affiliation is linked to other (potentially more salient) values, behaviors, and habits that bring people together. We do, after all, tend to travel among people who are similar to ourselves. Or, couples might come to share a political leaning after they get together; given the age-related trends, it’s possible a strongly identified young Democrat or Republican, for example, might shift a spouse who loosely identifies with a different party towards his or her favored party as the years go by.
As for the mixed-party couples, maybe the individuals in these couples aren’t strongly tied to their parties so that it isn’t really something they talk about, think about, or care about. Or, maybe, these mixed-party couples are demonstrating for the rest of us how a diversity of opinion can be a strength in a relationship.
* at least for long-term relationships (Amodio & Showers, 2005)
Amodio, D. M., & Showers, C. J. (2005). ‘Similarity breeds liking’ revisited: The moderating role of commitment. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 22, 817-836.
Hersh, E. D., & Ghitza, Y. (2016). Mixed Partisan Households and Electoral Participation in the United States.
Huber, G., & Malhotra, N. (2012). Political sorting in social relationships: Evidence from an online dating community. In Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, New Orleans, LA.
Pew Research Center. (2014). Political Polarization in the American Public.