The Two Dimensions of US Family and Household Demography and the Presidential Elections 1968-2016

Ron Lesthaeghe, VU Brussels and U Antwerp
Lisa Neidert, University of Michigan

Spatial Aspects of the American “Culture War”: The Two Dimensions of US Family Demography and the Presidential Elections, 1968-2016


This article explores the link between two basic dimensions of family demography and the outcome of presidential elections for states and continental counties. It is shown that the spatial patterns of respectively the “Second demographic transition” (SDT) and of voting start converging in the 1990s. The correlations remain very high and stable thereafter. This does not hold for the correlation between the other dimension of family demography, i.e. the pattern of disadvantage (POD), and voting. The spatial SDT-voting correlation does not depend on the issues being debated during the successive elections, and it reaches a maximum in the latest election round (2016) at the level of both states and counties. Furthermore, the zero order correlation remains intact after controls for household income, education, urbanity, religion and ethnicity at the state level, but it is being reduced at the county level. The latter result is produced by the high concentration of Democratic votes and SDT household structures in the metropolitan counties. As indicated, there is no such relationship between the geographies of the "pattern of disadvantage" and voting results of presidential elections.

On the whole, the SDT dimension is one of the strongest predictors of spatial voting patterns in the US since the turn of the century. These features show that both the demographic and political dimensions of the so called "US Culture War" have deep roots in life style preferences, much more so than in actual economic circumstances.

Presented in Session 5: Changing Family Values and Behaviour