SALT LAKE CITY — People who voted for Hillary Clinton are more likely to spend Thanksgiving with their extended families than people who voted for Donald Trump. Trump voters are slightly more likely to gobble turkey and trimmings with members of their immediate family next week.
Those juicy findings from the 2017 American Family Survey point to one reason the annual survey stands out amid polling that only asks political questions of the day, analysts said at a roundtable discussion to mark the survey’s release.
Jeremy Pope, a BYU associate professor and co-director of the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy, noted how asking Americans about their family practices can reveal surprising differences between Trump and Clinton voters, among them, the tendency of Clinton voters to have more connection with their extended families and to their communities.
“One of the reasons we put this survey together is, as political scientists, we think our discipline doesn’t pay enough attention to families and family life,” Pope said.
Karlyn Bowman, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a moderator of the discussion held at the institute's headquarters in Washington, D.C., concurred.
“Once upon a time, the pollsters regularly asked Americans about ordinary life. These questions are largely missing today in favor of the latest poll on political news or political scandal. Something very important has been lost,” Bowman said.
Thursday's event marked the formal release of the American Family Survey, a nationally representative poll conducted for the Deseret News and the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at Brigham Young University. In its third year, the survey of 3,000 adults addressed cellphone use, addiction, health care and immigration, among other topics related to marriage and family.
Analysts later examined the differences in attitudes among people who voted for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, and people who didn’t vote at all. The findings provide a rare look into what Deseret News editor Doug Wilks called “the heart of America” and give voice to a populace more troubled by economic concerns and work demands than by the social issues that often dominate headlines.
Four in 10 Americans report having an economic crisis during the past year, which helps to explain why they are increasingly more concerned about how to provide for their families than about sexual permissiveness or societal changes in structure of marriage, said BYU political science professor Christopher Karpowitz, a co-author of the report. But the survey revealed a rising number of people concerned about how American children are behaving.
“Whatever else they’re concerned about, Americans seem to be very concerned that other parents are not disciplining their children sufficiently,” said Karpowitz, co-director of the BYU Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy.
The survey found that technology, when governed by boundaries, is a useful tool for families to communicate, and that most cellphone use is between spouses, or parents and children, as opposed to friends and co-workers. Deeper analysis found a correlation between increased cellphone use and trouble in relationships, which Karpowitz said he found interesting, although causation cannot be proven.
Isabel Sawhill, a senior fellow in economic studies at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., said she wasn’t surprised that so many people, regardless of political leaning, derive a sense of identity from being a parent, but was struck by the number of people who expressed concern about the discipline of children, or lack thereof.
“I personally think that having a child is about the most important thing anyone ever does as an adult, and I do think that marriage is the best environment for children,” she said.
“A lot of this concern about the discipline and teaching of children is because a lot of people observe, correctly, that too many people are having children that they really don’t have time for, that they’re not dedicating themselves to,” Sawhill said.
She later elaborated on her concern that millennials increasingly see marriage as a “capstone,” an achievement to seek after building wealth and a career, “but this is just wrong,” she said.
“It’s crazy to think that marriage isn’t a good deal from an economic perspective, whatever you think of its effects on kids and other issues,” she said.
The American Family Survey’s findings about Americans’ economic concerns are especially relevant as Congress debates tax reform, said W. Bradford Wilcox, a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia.
The survey found a growing concern about the costs of raising a family, which Congress could address by expanding the child tax credit and also extending the benefit to more working-class families by reducing payroll taxes, as well, Wilcox said.
The survey is also important because it highlights the ways in which Americans are similar, even if they voted for starkly different candidates, Sawhill said.
Clinton voters tend to give priority to economic issues; Trump voters, to cultural issues, she said. Differences in political worldviews matter. But, Sawhill noted, “It doesn’t have to be either/or. Both matter,” she said, adding, “Politically we need to get beyond this bifurcated view. If we're going to find any common ground, we have to focus on values we can all support, and I think those values are family, work and education."