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From Latinos to millennials to coal miners, this never-ending election cycle has cast a spotlight on nearly every corner of the U.S. electorate … except parents. That’s because parents are a diverse group. The urge to procreate is pretty consistent across ethnic, racial, and socioeconomic lines, and it’s safe to say that parents aren’t going to vote as a monolithic block for any one candidate. Maybe that’s why no one seems to be asking parents how they feel about the election or the issues that are stake.
So we did.
Fatherly’s 2016 Election Survey canvassed 1,233 parents about everything from how becoming a parent changed their perception of politics to their optimism for their kids’ future. In some ways, the sample diverges from the U.S. population: Only 8.7 percent of respondents were divorced or in domestic partnerships, while the national percentage is far higher. In others ways, the sample aligns quite nicely: According to Gallup, 29 percent of Americans identify as Democrat while 26 percent say they’re Republicans. Our sample saw nearly an identical percentage of Dems, and 22 percent Republicans.
Some of the data seemed to divide predictably along party lines, but there’s also plenty of evidence that certain things about parenting really are universal. As a country, we can’t agree on much of anything anymore, but as parents we can all agree on who we’re voting for: our kids.
For the nearly 39 percent of respondents who cop to caring more about elections now that they’re caring for kids, Republicans outnumbered Democrats by more than 12 percent. But a slim majority of parents overall claim that the arrival of adorable new dependents has not increased or decreased their interest in and awareness of politics. Independents were most likely to claim nothing had changed after becoming parents, but they’re a noncommittal bunch by nature, aren’t they?
More parents than not reported talking to their kids about the election, which might be an acknowledgement of the fact that even kids can’t escape the pervasive hysteria of political advertising. And since so much of that advertising is about casting aspersions on the other guy, here’s some fuel for your next political argument with the in-laws: Democrats were more likely (61 percent) than Republicans (54 percent) or Independents (56 percent) to try and explain why the man with the funny hair is yelling at the grandma on the TV.
The single biggest gap between the survey respondents and the general population is with regards to financial contributions to candidates. According to the campaign finance trackers at OpenSecrets.org, a tiny fraction of voters donate money, but a whopping 72.68 percent of Fatherly readers pony up. The percentage of readers attending rallies or volunteering are similarly out of whack with national averages, although this may be accounted for in the economic demographics of respondents. Nearly 50 percent had a household income of $100,000 or more, so it can reasonably be assumed they have both more money and more flexible schedules than those who make less.
To get Fatherly readers mimicking your favorite cable news talking heads, just dive into the issues. Asked about the biggest challenge facing their kids’ generation, Democrats chose the environment (presumably while waving a “Frack No!” banner) while Republicans chose national security (probably while putting a “Support Our Troops” bumper sticker on the car).
In total, though, the environment significantly outweighed every other concern, because a majority of Independents are most worried about it, as well. Before you read too much into what that might say about where the general electorate is leaning, it’s worth noting Independents were underrepresented in the survey sample (31.63 percent) compared to national averages (42 percent).
Since measuring what parents are worrying about at this very moment is probably a fool’s errand (ask them again — 10 bucks says it’s changed already), we also posed the classic, “Will most children in this country grow up better off or worse off than their parents?” While the results look grim — 44.44 percent seem to think the next generation is screwed — it’s actually an improvement from what Pew found when they asked the same question in 2013. Three years ago, two thirds of Americans said things were getting worse.
Here again the survey respondents align with national trends: Democrats are more likely to be optimistic about the future than Republicans, 53 percent of whom feel kids today will be worse off than their parents.
If the future is so dim that kids today can’t be expected to recognize a “future’s so bright” reference, what about the here and now? This is where the 800-pound gorilla of the economy rears its head: 3 of the top 6 concerns for parents involve family finances, including money for college, money for health care, and money for simply putting food on the table.
Perhaps more interesting, however, is the near uniformity of opinion across party lines on these concerns. Save for terrorism, which makes Republicans significantly more concerned than Democrats or Independents, everyone seems worried in equal measure. Keep it in mind the next time you want to flip off the lady who just cut you in the school pickup line — she’s worried that she’s failing her kids, same as you.
Arguably the biggest surprise of the entire survey is tucked within these answers: Concerns about work/life balance top everything but education. That being the case, you’d think the candidates would be pounding the podium to flog their policies for working families. But there seems to be no time for that when there are health scandals to manufacture and deplorables to deplore.
Finally, another point of near consensus: Nearly 70 percent of all respondents admit that becoming a parent changed the issues that mattered most to them. In an election that’s seen its fair share of cynicism, this should be cause for some hope. After all, don’t you make better decisions when you’re doing it with your kid in mind rather than your own damn self?
Number of Survey Respondents: 1,233
- 82% married
- 4.7% divorced (living alone)
- 4% in a domestic partnership (not married)
- 3% single (no kids)
- 60% Male
- 40% Female
- 25.47% $100,000 to less than $150,000
- 23.93% $150,000 or more
- 18.73% $75,000 to less than $100,000
- 13.95% $50,000 to less than $75,000
- 31.63% Independent
- 28.95% Democrat
- 22.22% Republican
- 9.33% No Preference
- 7.87% Something Else
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