In the early hours of Wednesday morning, the narrative of the 2022 midterms had already cemented: Republicans’ celebration of a promised majority had turned to dejection and finger-pointing. There will be no shortage of post-hoc analysis for this “asterisk” election, but with more data available, there’s one voting block bucking the trend that should be all too familiar as a confounding cohort within the men-under-40 demographic that so dominates electoral analysis: single women.
While partisan preference of the national electorate listed markedly to the right, Democrats had a second blue wave year among unmarried women, causing Fox News host Jesse Watters to lament that “single women and voters under 40 have been captured by Democrats. So, we need these ladies to get married. And it’s time to fall in love and just settle down. Guys, go put a ring on it.”
Party preference by gender by marital status, CNN exit polls
Exit polls are not without error, and the margin of error (MOE) for subgroups is far greater than the MOE of the electorate as a whole. Additionally, the national partisan preference for these subgroups is unlike a national generic ballot insofar as that it may not fully account for uncontested races. With that in mind, this analysis attempts to take CNN’s 2022 exit polls with the appropriate grains of salt to highlight outsized differences in gender by marital status, and talk about where it mattered.
Is it Dobbs?
It’s true—marriage has a conservatizing effect on the political attitudes of women.
- Married women are associated with lower levels of gender-linked fate, which is itself is associated with ideology, partisanship, and even positional attitudes such as support for abortion.
- Research tells us that marriage plays a distinct role in structuring legal abortion attitudes for women, particularly among white women.
- We know that the Dobbs decision created an inflection point in support for Democrats, and it’s not an unreasonable to understand why the issue would have outsized salience among unmarried women (86 percent of abortion seekers in the US are unmarried).
Democratic vote share in 2022 Gubernatorial elections by gender by marital status, CNN exit polls
Gubernatorial contests this year were ground zero for outsized activity of Democratic preference among unmarried women. Perhaps nowhere else was the issue of abortion more salient than where abortion was quite literally on the ballot. Proposal 3, a Michigan statewide referendum protecting access to abortion, would supersede a 1931 law that, in the wake of Dobbs, would have outlawed abortion access in the state. This may have contribute to supersized margins for pro-choice Incumbent Governor Gretchen Whitmer, who carried unmarried women 74 percent to 24 percent over Republican challenger Tudor Dixon.
Whitmer vote share vs. Prop 3 vote share by gender by marital status, CNN exit polls 2022.
While analysis of under voting and ticket splitting is fraught with observational pitfalls, what we can say for sure about this is that abortion was not largely decisive in the gubernatorial vote choice among unmarried men. Prop 3 saw a total undervote of 79,802—about 1.8% of the total votes cast in the gubernatorial contest. While Whitmer only ran behind Prop 3 by two points, the gap for unmarried men cannot be ignored. Whitmer carried unmarried men over staunchly pro-life Republican Tudor Dixon by only 3 points, leaving a 15 point gap in support between Whitmer and Yes on Proposition 3.
Democratic vote share for 2022 Senate races by gender by marital status, CNN exit polls
With unmarried women comprising an estimated 23 percent of the electorate, some rough, back-of-the-envelope math tells us that, approximately, every 4-point shift rightward by unmarried women translates to a 1 point decrease in Democratic vote share. It’s fair to observe that had unmarried women demonstrated the same rightward shifts in their married or male counterparts, we would be looking at a Republican Senate majority.
Democratic margin comparison for 2022 Senate and Gov races, by gender by marital status. CNN exit polls
Unlike Michigan, the fate of abortion access in Nevada was not inexorably linked to the outcome of the governor’s race. A 1990 ballot measure codified protections for abortions in the state up to 24 weeks. According to the Nevada Independent, “passage of the 1990 referendum means that only a direct majority vote from the people could overturn that protection. Nevada’s lawmakers and governor are prohibited from directly restricting abortion access earlier than 24 weeks into pregnancy.” Republican gubernatorial challenger Joe Lombardo—while personally pro life, navigated the issue by projecting a more moderate position.
In contrast, Republican Senate challenger Adam Laxalt’s campaign was marred by attacks highlighting his career-long anti-abortion track record. Although he claimed that he would not vote in favor of a national abortion ban, voters were provided with plenty of reasons to meet these claims with a hearty amount of skepticism. While it is worth noting that Laxalt failed to gain ground among college-educated and Hispanic voters, with both Senate and Gubernatorial contests decided by one point, Laxalt’s relative underperformance among unmarried women seems to have cost him the race.
It’s not all about the single ladies, though. Down in Georgia, the unmarried men stand out as a decisive group. Marital status as a whole was not largely determinative of a potential Warnock/Walker ticket splitter, but looking under the hood, we see great divergences in self-identification by gender and marital status by gender. Democratic nominee Stacey Abrams was particularly ineffective at holding on to unmarried men, who stand out as the inveterate ticket splitters in Georgia this year. Incumbent Senator Raphael Warnock won unmarried men. Younger voters (under 40), particularly men, have demonstrated the highest rates of Independent political party identification. It shouldn’t shock us, then, that Governor Brian Kemp and Warnock both carried slim majorities of Independent men: Warnock led among the group 52 to 43, and Kemp 51 to 46.
Do Republicans have a single women problem?
Earlier this year, then-Ohio Senate GOP primary hopeful JD Vance dropped some semiviral ragebait, bemoaning a country “controlled by cat ladies.” From our journey through exit polls, this may have become a self fulfilling prophecy. No single block of voters holds the key to victory in every election, but one thing is evident: a failure to court marriageable women has electoral consequences.