Why are political mixed marriages rare?

According to the 2010 Australian Election Study, only about 20% of the population are very strong supporters of the party they say they usually support. So political identity doesn’t seem that important for most people. Yet the same survey included a question on the party identification of the respondent’s spouse, and found that most couples share political allegiances (I included the Greens, but with only 72 married Greens in the sample this is less reliable than the other results).

There was also a question on spouse religion, and for the big religious groups that have many respondents – Catholics and Anglicans – 47% of the former and 56% of the latter have spouses from other religions or no religion.

So even though shared religious beliefs would seem more central to harmonious life as a couple, it seems that shared political beliefs are more common.

I haven’t done more work on the AES sample to explore further, but my first hypothesis would be that despite claims that the traditional sociological bases of the major parties have been breaking down, social background and social circumstances are still the fundamental shapers of political allegiances. And because people tend to marry people who are sociologically like themselves, they end up with shared partisan preferences.

14 Responses to “Why are political mixed marriages rare?

  • 1
    Dave Bath
    June 26th, 2011 20:52

    Perhaps the really telling quick stat would be if you could look at the “second preference” in other halves of the Green voters.

    Or… maybe there’s a bias for those partnerships that survive because there are no arguments. There may be lots of mixed marriages, but lots of mixed divorces.

  • 2
    Robin Hanson
    June 27th, 2011 06:05

    Do we have related results from other nations?

  • 3
    June 27th, 2011 06:29

    It’s also possible that most people don’t talk about politics that much, so they falsely assume that other people generally vote the same way as them even when they don’t. I have a suspicion that when you generally agree with someone you will tend to assume that they have similar political leanings to yourself.

  • 4
    Son of the Ratpack
    June 27th, 2011 06:50

    What this research doesn’t tell you is whether married couples started out voting differently and later converged.

  • 5
    Rajat Sood
    June 27th, 2011 11:29

    I think it depends on what you call ‘social’ background and circumstances. I do think the traditional sociological bases of the parties have largely broken down. Now political allegiances have more to do with career (and career/university training), with the causality working both ways. Peter Saunders’s (the ex-CIS one) work on the ‘opinionators’ was excellent on this point. Given that most people meet their spouses through university or work, it makes sense that people disproportionately marry those with similar political views. But I would describe this as a different type of social influence to family social background or class.

  • 6
    June 27th, 2011 12:01

    Or is it cause the woman adopts the man’s point of view (like she’s supposed to) ?

  • 7
    Son of the Ratpack
    June 27th, 2011 12:06

    “Given that most people meet their spouses through university or work”

    Most people do not go to university. Of those who do not, like say plumbers or truck drivers or shop assistants, I reckon they do not meet their spouses at work.

  • 8
    Rajat Sood
    June 27th, 2011 12:45

    These days, most people go on to some form of tertiary education. Of course, many take courses that are preparation for traditionally male or female professionals, but less than what used to be the case. Even jobs not requiring tertiary education are not necessarily sex segregated. The most common occupation now is sales assistant and I’d guess most these are at Coles and Woolies rather than womenswear stores. Other common occupations that are fairly mixed sex are clerks, teachers and accountants. My point is that the pairing up that used to happen through high school – when family background is very relevant – is increasingly happening later on when family background is less relevant.

  • 9
    Andrew Norton
    June 27th, 2011 12:54

    I was clumsily trying to say what Rajat said at comment 5, though I suspect family background (his comment number 8) is still pretty important, through direct transfer of views and indirectly through what occupations it leads to.

  • 10
    Andrew Norton
    June 27th, 2011 12:55

    WordPress is refusing to accept that 8 means eight.

  • 11
    June 27th, 2011 14:57

    Would be interesting to see if this hold across age demographics.

  • 12
    Shem Bennett
    June 27th, 2011 19:31

    Most “Anglicans” and “Catholics” I know are religious in name only, meaning religion probably doesn’t shape their decisions very much. I’d be interesting to see how many Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses are the same religion are their spouse.

    I think a small factor that might lead to the political party correlation is age. Most people are married to people at least of their own generation and there’s an established link between voting patterns and age.

    In my experience with my partner we have similar political beliefs, but it didn’t start that way. But I’m with him because he’s a critical thinker- I couldn’t tolerate a partner that wasn’t. My political passion has rubbed off on him and due to his critical thinking over time he’s come to accept and agree with the libertarian viewpoint.

    I think values is a big part of it… Someone with strong traditional values probably wouldn’t marry someone “new age” and those values often translate into political identity.

  • 13
    June 28th, 2011 12:21

    The one about the Catholics doesn’t surprise me at all. There are a lot of nominal or ‘social’ Catholics, so the only reason you would marry another Catholic is if you went to school with them or they are a friend of someone you went to school with. Well, maybe a small percentage of very conservative Catholics would go out of their way to marry a fellow Catholic, but I’ve only known one who did so.

    I’m actually surprised by the number of schoolmates who still identify as ‘Catholic’ (via Facebook) even though they have beliefs and behavior that directly contradict the most obvious of Catholic doctrine.

  • 14
    Andrew Norton » Blog Archive » Hereditary politics?
    July 17th, 2011 19:05

    […] the politics of the respondent’s parents. Though the generations don’t share politics as much as spouses, politics is not looking like a major source of division in family get-togethers. Labor politics […]