Public Opinion Watch

(covering polls and related articles from the week of February 20- February 26, 2006)

Ruy Teixeira
Ruy Teixeira

In this edition of Public Opinion Watch:

• Unmarried America: Demographics and Attitudes

• How Low Can He Go?

Unmarried America: Demographics and Attitudes

I strongly recommend a close look at a recent set of materials issued by Women’s Voices, Women Vote. These materials include the results of a survey of unmarried adults conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner (GQR), an extensive chartpack based on the survey findings and other research by GQR and, last, but not least, an 83 page report “The State of Unmarried America” by GQR.

The findings confirm that unmarrieds, particularly women, are a strong group for progressives, and that unmarrieds as a group are growing steadily as a proportion of the population. But there are serious challenges in terms of mobilization and tailoring a progressive message appropriate for these voters’ concerns – all of which is covered in the GQR/WVWV materials.

On the demographics of the unmarried population (from the report):

Over the past half century, family structure changed dramatically and the number of unmarried Americans increased considerably. During the 1950’s, approximately 80 percent of Americans lived in households headed by married couples; now that number is just less than half. By 2008, more than half will be headed by an unmarried person. As more people remain or become unmarried (e.g., divorce), families are starting to look different. According to a recent study, 24 percent of households in the country are in “traditional” or “nuclear” families (defined as two parents with children) and 16 percent of households are in non-traditional families (defined as a child and a male or female head of household, with no spouse present). In 1950, only 9 percent of children were growing up in one-parent homes, while by 2000 this number had increased to 26 percent.

Today, there is a majority of unmarried heads of household in 17 states and 139 congressional districts across the country. This demographic transformation is occurring very rapidly. As recently as 1990, only one state had a non-married majority head of household, and, in 2000, there were only 11 states with non-married household majorities.

There are 10 million more unmarried women than unmarried men (56 percent female compared to 44 percent male), primarily because women live longer than men. Twenty-four percent of voting-age Americans are unmarried women, compared to 19 percent who are unmarried men.

For the past half century, unmarried women have been growing steadily as a share of the population. In 1965, only 15 percent of all Americans were unmarried women, compared to 24 percent now. Nearly half (46 percent) of all women are unmarried.

On the attitudes of the unmarried population (note how unmarried men, while not as change-oriented and progressive as unmarried women, are still remarkably progressive for a subgroup of men):

1. Unmarried women are 18 percent right direction/74 percent wrong track, while unmarried men are 35/57.

2. Among unmarried women, 71 percent say the war in Iraq was not worth the cost in U.S. lives and dollars; among unmarried men, 68 percent feel the same way.

3. Unmarried women and men also differ little on whether the government should do more to help the needy, even if it means going deeper into debt–62 percent of unmarried women and 59 percent of unmarried men endorse this viewpoint, as opposed to the alternative that the government can’t afford to do much more to help the needy.

4. On whether the role of the government should be to promote the principle of self-reliance or the principle of a strong community and opportunity, both unmarried women (64-30) and men, albeit narrowly (51-44), come down on the side of a strong community and opportunity.

5. On Bush job approval, just 31 percent of women and 38 percent of men approve of his job performance.

6. Including leaners, unmarried men are 54 percent Democratic and 35 percent Republican, while unmarried women are 62 percent Democratic and 27 percent Republican.

How Low Can He Go?

Pretty low! The latest CBS News poll has some startling findings on the public’s view of Bush and the Bush administration, as one fiasco after another (the latest wave of violence in Iraq, the firestorm of protest against the ports for Arab Emirates deal) rocks the Bush presidency.

From the summary of the poll on the CBS News website:

The latest CBS News poll finds President Bush's approval rating has fallen to an all-time low of 34 percent, while pessimism about the Iraq war has risen to a new high.

Americans are also overwhelmingly opposed to the Bush-backed deal giving a Dubai-owned company operational control over six major U.S. ports. Seven in 10 Americans, including 58 percent of Republicans, say they're opposed to the agreement….

For the first time in this poll, most Americans say the president does not care much about people like themselves. Fifty-one percent now think he doesn't care, compared to 47 percent last fall.

Just 30 percent approve of how Mr. Bush is handling the Iraq war, another all-time low.

By two to one, the poll finds Americans think U.S. efforts to bring stability to Iraq are going badly – the worst assessment yet of progress in Iraq.

Even on fighting terrorism, which has long been a strong suit for Mr. Bush, his ratings dropped lower than ever. Half of Americans say they disapprove of how he's handling the war on terror, while 43 percent approve.

That’s a lot of all-time lows!

Here are a few other findings from the poll worth citing:

1. His unusually low job approval rating, 72 percent, appears to be driven by an unusually low approval rating among GOP identifiers. If Bush’s rating among GOP identifiers doesn’t snap back up toward the 80 mark or higher, we could see more approval ratings in the range of this latest CBS News poll….or even lower.

2. Bush’s approval rating on the economy is only 32 percent, with 60 percent disapproval –apparently, Americans still haven’t gotten the “good news” on the economy. And his rating on handling the energy situation is only 27 percent, also with 60 percent disapproval.

3. Just 29 percent now think the result of the war with Iraq was worth the loss of American life and costs of attacking Iraq, compared to 63 percent who think it wasn’t. In a bit of good news for the Bush administration, this result is only tied for the most negative result ever on this question.

4. Could all this bad news be rubbing off on the conservative brand? Well, in this poll, self-identified conservatives are down to 27 percent of the public, a mere 7 points away from the 20 percent who are self-identified liberals.

But is this CBS News poll an “outlier” as they say, and therefore not to be taken seriously? Here’s the verdict from the incomparable Charles Franklin, who writes on his invaluable site, Political Arithmetik:

Among the recent polls, the CBS News poll is the lowest and is likely to be given special scrutiny. The effect of this poll on my trend estimates is about 1% — including this latest poll would lower my trend estimate to 39% support, while excluding it makes the estimate 40%, a modest effect.

However, the CBS poll and the Cook/RT Strategies polls are also the two taken since the Dubai port issue came on the scene. Cook's approval rating for polling taken 2/23-26/06 is 40%, down sharply from Cook's 47% in late January (1/22-25). The CBS rating is down from 42% taken at almost the same time (1/20-25) as the Cook data. So while there is a gap between the two polls on the current level, both argue for a drop of 7-8% in approval since the State of the Union Address….

The results [of an outlier test] show that while the latest CBS News poll is well below the trend, it is by no means a statistical outlier. It is inside the 95% confidence interval, though only slightly. Moreover, as the graph makes obvious, there have been a large number of polls further away from the trend than this one. My conclusion is that the low approval rating of 34% is not exceptionally low, and given the average CBS "house effect" does not seem out of line with past polls….

So what is [causing the drop in approval in the CBS News poll]? A drop in support across all party groups, but especially among Republicans. In January, approval among Republicans was 83%. In February it dropped to 72%, a shocking 11% decline among the president's base. Among Independents support fell from 34% to 29% and among Democrats from 14% to 9%, in both cases less than half the percentage point decline as among Republicans. This also compares to support among Republicans which had remained above 90% into early 2005….

…While the CBS poll is generally a couple of percentage points less favorable than the overall trend, the drop of 8% here, and the 7% decline in the Cook poll should send alarms ringing in the White House and in Republican Congressional circles. After a fairly good November and December, the Bush presidency appears once more to be slipping into the kind of poll numbers that suck all political capital out of negotiations with Congress, and that set the stage for especially difficult congressional and gubernatorial races in the fall.”

There you have it. Class dismissed ‘til next week and the latest batch of polls.

Ruy Teixeira is a joint fellow at the Center for American Progress and The Century Foundation.