The usually thoughtful David Broder broke the news in a Washington Post column. "So it was a shock to me," said Broder, that when Americans were asked whether the government should develop programs to encourage people to get married and stay married, "by a margin of 79 percent to 18 percent, they said they favored the government's staying out of marriage promotion." Even 60 percent of highly committed white evangelicals, he said, quoting the poll by the Pew Research Center, opposed such programs.
It would be a surprise to anyone familiar with surveys showing the deep tide of concern about family fragmentation. Bad poll, I sniffed, and turned the page. But when I began seeing other references to how unpopular the Bush proposal is, I decided to find out for myself.
Most Americans do not know this, but respectable polling companies will help anyone with approximately $750 to develop and insert a question in a nationally representative telephone survey. So I commissioned my own marriage poll with Opinion Research Corp., which was recently released by the Coalition for Marriage, Families and Couples Education (www.smartmarriages.com).
Pew Research Center asked a single question: In your view, should the government start up programs that encourage people to get and stay married or should the government stay out of this?
On May 3 through May 6, Opinion Research Corp. asked 1,016 American adults a few different questions. For example: Thinking about children in low-income, single-parent households, how important do you think it is for their overall well-being that their parents get and stay married? Sixty-seven percent of Americans called it very important, 19 percent agreed it was somewhat important. Just 9 percent thought getting parents to marry and stay married was either not too or not at all important to poor children. (Margin of error: 3 percent.)
What's astonishing is the absolute uniformity across all racial and class lines: 87 percent of whites thought marriage was important, but so did 85 percent of African-Americans and 90 percent of Hispanics; 85 percent of college grads agreed that marriage mattered, but so did 90 percent of high school dropouts. Eighty-seven percent of Americans making $50,000 or more agreed, but so did 86 percent of Americans with household incomes of less than $15,000.
Maggie Gallagher is a nationally syndicated columnist, a leading voice in the new marriage movement and co-author of The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially.