By Jonathon Van Maren
It is a popular pastime of Democrats to point triumphantly to the moral shortcomings of assorted Republicans (Roy Moore being only the most recent and egregious of examples) and scoffing at the idea that the Republican Party is “pro-family values.” Some journalists have even pointed to polling that seems to indicate that residents of blue states are actually more likely to be in stable marriages and have stable families than those in red states. But according to a recent analysis in Politico by W. Bradford Wilcox, a senior fellow of the Institute for family studies and a professor of sociology at the University of Virginia, that is actually not the case:
Indeed, when we look not at states but at counties in the United States, we see that counties that lean Republican across the country as a whole have more marriage, less nonmarital childbearing, and more family stability than counties that lean Democratic. In fact, an Institute for Family Studies report I authored found, “teens in red counties are more likely to be living with their biological parents, compared to children living in bluer counties.” So, even at the community level, the story about marriage and family instability looks a lot different depending on whether or not one is looking at state or county trends. At the county level, then, the argument that Red America is doing worse than Blue America isn’t true.
Examining the prevalence of family values in practice on a county level, of course, would take into account that there are some “red state” areas with rampant family breakdown, described so vividly by J.D. Vance in his memoir Hillbilly Elegy, and others that more closely resemble the sort of Southern small town described by Rod Dreher in his phenomenal book The Little Way of Ruthie Leming. More from Wilcox:
Finally, when we turn to the individual level, the conservatives-are-family-values-hypocrites thesis really falls apart. Republicans are more likely to be married, and happily married, than independents and Democrats, as Nicholas Wolfinger and I recently showed in a research brief for the Institute for Family Studies. They are also less likely to cheat on their spouses and less likely to be divorced, compared with independents and Democrats. So, Donald Trump is the exception, not the norm, for Republicans. Family patterns for parents are particularly noteworthy, since children are more likely to thrive when they are raised by stably married parents in good relationships. When we look at parents ages 18 to 55 in the United States, as the figures above and below indicate, we find that Republican parents are significantly more likely to be in their first marriage and, if married, to say they are “very happy” in their marriages, according to the General Social Survey, a nationally representative survey conducted by the University of Chicago that tracks a range of American attitudes and behaviors. Specifically, 61 percent of Republican parents are in their first marriage, compared with 50 percent of Democrats and 46 percent of independents. Likewise, Republican married parents are at least 6 percentage points more likely to say they are very happy in their marriages compared with Democrats and independents.
The inescapable conclusion here is that Republicans are not hypocrites about family values—at least not in their personal lives. The majority of those who espouse these values practice what they preach. The ongoing political debate about whether values voters should support ardent practitioners of the Sexual Revolution such as Donald Trump, of course, are just getting started. Many “Never Trumpers” and an assortment of prominent Christian leaders have been making the case since Trump became the Republican candidate that vocal support for a man like Donald Trump shows rank hypocrisy, especially after Christians spent over a decade attacking the Clintons for their myriad character flaws. They have a point: Rod Dreher has spent quite some time over at his blog on The American Conservative detailing the growing sense of disillusionment young evangelicals are feeling with the church over the Trumpism of prominent leaders like Liberty University’s Jerry Falwell and even their parents.
On the other hand, as I explained in an earlier column, many Christians voted for Trump out of self-defence. Historian Stephen Mansfield does a brilliant job explaining this in his recent book Choosing Donald Trump: God, Anger, Hope, and Why Christian Conservatives Supported Him. Most Christian Trump voters, Mansfield explains, did not vote for Trump because they thought he was a paragon of virtue. Far from it: Trump escaped charges of hypocrisy simply because he didn’t pretend to be a good Christian, and didn’t try to cover up his sketchy past. Instead, he met with Christian leaders, listened to their concerns, and made commitments to address them in office. So far, it does not appear that Trump intends to stab them in the back.
Either way, the debate will continue.
For anyone interested, my book on The Culture War, which analyzes the journey our culture has taken from the way it was to the way it is and examines the Sexual Revolution, hook-up culture, the rise of the porn plague, abortion, commodity culture, euthanasia, and the gay rights movement, is available for sale here.