Politics & Policy

Looking for Love in All the Right (and Left) Places

Political romance.

Many couples disagree about politics. In fact, researchers at the University of California have found that 56 percent of couples discuss politics fairly regularly, and 53 percent disagree “occasionally or frequently.”

For some, this disagreement is a major barrier to marital harmony. I know one couple that battles bitterly and continuously over politics. It will be unsurprising this Valentine’s Day if one of them doesn’t end up sleeping on the couch due to a dispute over something along the lines of whether Barack Obama is secretly a socialist.

Conjugal disagreement over the presidential election is just one dimension of love and politics, however. Another question is whether Republicans or Democrats generally have happier love lives, and which make better mates.

The classic stereotype, of course, is that Republicans are a bunch of stiffs: men in blue blazers and boring ties, who have trouble making emotional connections; women who will turn the passion in a marriage off like a faucet just as soon as the kids come. Democrats, on the other hand, are often thought of as emotional, caring, and passionate. Thus, Republicans — while they may have lower divorce rates than Democrats — tend to exist in loveless relationships. But what do the data actually say?

To begin with, Republicans have somewhat happier marriages than Democrats, on average. According to the 2006 General Social Survey, 67 percent of Republicans say their marriages are very happy, versus 61 percent of Democrats. (Disconcertingly for independents like my wife and me, only 55 percent say they have very happy marriages.) And there doesn’t appear to be a passion gap at all between Republican and Democratic marriages: Republican couples report, um, “caucusing” an average of 60 times per year. Meanwhile, Democratic couples report 59 such conclaves annually.

What about affection? Here, the Right surges ahead. Sixty-eight percent of Republicans of all marital statuses in 2004 strongly agreed that they would prefer to suffer rather than let the one they loved suffer — versus 56 percent of Democrats. And 48 percent of Republicans strongly agreed when presented with the statement, “I would endure all things for the one I love.” In comparison, 38 percent of Democrats gave this response. Unless Republicans are disproportionately answering the survey while thinking about their dogs, these responses speak well for the Right’s potential for marital attachment.

Still, none of this necessarily shows that Republicans actually make good spouses, which requires a lot of day-to-day acts of consideration and faithfulness. Unfortunately, no data exist (that I know of) showing which side is more likely to put the cap back on the toothpaste or lower the toilet seat at night. Evidence does exist, however, on the more serious issues, such as sexual fidelity.

Do you think extramarital sex is “always wrong”? While eight in ten Democrats and Republicans answer this question in the affirmative, there is a large difference in the answers given by “conservatives” and “liberals.” Specifically, 93 percent of conservatives say it is always wrong, versus only 65 percent of liberals. In other words, for a third of liberals, the whole monogamous marriage thing does not always seem the best option. Very modern, perhaps — but not an attitude many shop for in an ideal mate.

Sexual morality also diverges widely between Right and Left. About 60 percent more Democrats than Republicans confess to having watched at least one pornographic movie in the past year. And in real life (as opposed to cinema), Democrats are two-thirds likelier than Republicans to have had two or more sex partners in the past year. Perhaps these things don’t matter as much to Democrats as they do to Republicans — the data don’t tell us — but I personally can’t believe that a Democrat would be any more attracted to someone who admits to having a porn hobby than a Republican would be.

All things taken together, the evidence does not support the contention that either the Right or Left is unsuccessful in love and relationships. As it should be, there will be myriad happy couples this Valentine’s Day on both political sides. But it’s time to shed the image of the loveless Republicans, and if you’re in the market for a mate, it may be wisest to look in the Right place.

— Arthur C. Brooks, a professor at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School and a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, is author of the forthcoming book Gross National Happiness (Basic Books).


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