Elections and Spouses

So elections were this past week and depending on which side of the line you stand you are either thrilled or dismayed.

Life has been so busy for us I was really worried that I was going to get wrapped up in the day’s to-do list and forget to vote so I put it into my phone’s calendar set to give me reminders all throughout the day.  I didn’t forget.  I voted. 🙂

But because things have been so busy, DH and I never got the chance to sit down and talk about any of the candidates or the propositions until after the election.  No biggie. We tend to vote our own, sometime different ways, so this was not a making sure we’re on the same page process, it’s just a way for us to talk about what’s on the ballot.

And that’s what was on my mind this morning, the fact that it is OKAY for husbands and wives to vote differently.

Perhaps you feel differently about this; it seems that a lot of couples I know say things like well, I want to make sure our votes aren’t canceling each other out.” But maybe someone can explain to me what is so wrong with that? I mean… that is what VOTING is all about, right? What’s wrong with husbands and wives having different opinions about political stuff?

My strong feelings on this are motivated in part because of a memory: One election day, years ago, I dropped by a loved one’s house when she happened to be listening to her messages. One of the messages was from her husband; it was a detailed list of who and what she was to vote for when she went to the polls. I was aghast and my horror must have shown on my face because she explained: …..He knows so much more about these things than I do… he is so much more informed and well read……

That’s probably my issue with the notion that couples have to “be on the same page” when voting. I am pretty sensitive to gendered relationships in marriages, who has the spoken (or unspoken) right to the last word and who is seen as having more authority and expertise in the matter.

I don’t remember where I read this, I think it was in one of my books on the history of marriage, the quote went something like “The Husband and the Wife are one person and that person is the Husband”.

I do think incidents like the one I related above are rare nowadays, but it does have me thinking about how spouses handle election season.

And not just spouses, I wonder how unmarried couples handle election season. (Is there a large difference in how married couples handle political differences than how unmarried-long-term-relationship couples do?)
ALSO, I’m curious if it is different for same sex couples than for hetero couples.  (Is there a large difference in how How het couples handle handle political differences  than same-sex couples?)

I’m sure someone has done a study on it.  Anyone know of one?

While a great many couples tend to have similar political leanings, I’m curious how it works out when they don’t.  How does it work in your relationships?

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17 Responses

  1. Caroline says:

    My husband and I cancel out each other’s votes every election. We’re fine with that. We went into the marriage knowing we were in different political parties. I respect his desire for small government, but I’m just more comfortable with people or parties that pass environmental regulations and that I see as less likely to go to war.

    The only time our different politics seriously impacted our marriage was during Prop 8. That hurt. Really hurt. And it scared me.

    G, I’m disturbed by that phone message you heard from your neighbor. A conversation about the election is fine, but a that message was no conversation. Yikes.

    Great post!

  2. Jessawhy says:

    Great post, G!
    I don’t think DH and I even talked after the election this year. Part of that is because we don’t have TV so we’re not being bombarded with ads about the election, we would have forgotten about it entirely except we looked at our calendar.

    I’ve converted DH a little bit to the liberal side of the fence. We are part of the same political party (the invisible one in Arizona). For the most part we agree, but perhaps my degree in Poli Sci has been used for ill over the 10 years we’ve been married. I’ve been a little bit of a political bully, and I’ll admit it. I’m much better now, though.

  3. marta says:

    my parents always voted to cancel each other’s votes. neither of them trusted the other not to go vote. dh and i generally agree about politics (one of the few areas in which we generally agree). he grew up very republican in SLC. he is now registered democrat. i grew up all over the west with a democrat and an independent. i have always registered independent.
    each should vote his/her conscience.

  4. Vada says:

    I’m pretty sure my husband and I canceled all of each others votes (with the exception of races where judges were running uncontested and the local ballot initiative to vote on whether the mayor could have a $500/mo stipend (we both voted yes)). We’re okay with that. We try to be respectful of the other person’s positions, and we can generally have good dialogue (when we want to take the energy to do that). I think that both of us have become more liberal since we’ve been married, but that means that I’ve gone from generally voting a 70%/30% dem/rep ticket and registering undeclared to voting a 95%/5% dem/rep ticket and calling myself a democrat (in conversation at least — officially I’m still undeclared) and that he’s gone from being a republican who thinks democrats are evil to a republican who thinks only some democrats are evil and admits that others can have decent ideas. Also, I’m grateful we weren’t in CA for Prop 8, because I think that would have put way too much strain on our marriage.

  5. Rebecca says:

    I grew up in a mixed-politics, mixed-religion household. Both of my parents have a huge interest in politics. My dad is currently serving as a County Commissioner. He’s a lapsed Baptist and lifelong Democrat and my mom is Republican. Disagreeing on both politics and religion has sometimes been a strain in their marriage, but in recent years, their ideas seem to be converging more and more. Maybe that’s just the natural effect of 45 plus years of marriage. They both cross party lines on occasion. They’ve instilled in me, “You don’t vote for a party, you vote for a person.”

    As an aside, it’s been a saying in my dad’s very southern family that they were Democrats first, and Baptists second. I thought that was an interesting way to say that they were zealous about their politics! His parents voted straight Democrat in every single election until they died.

    In my own family, my husband and I tend to agree on both politics and religion most of the time but we DON’T tell each other how to vote. I recently voted to legalize marijuana and he voted against it. It made for some lively discussions around our house.

  6. Corktree says:

    I think we’ve come a little closer in our politics over the years, but it’s taken us a while to have productive discussions about anything truly meaningful. For a long time, it seemed my husband was more informed than I was, but he never really wanted to talk politics, so I was a little directionless until I started asking for his resources. I’m still always a bit behind on some topics, but I’m catching up. When I do my homework, I’ve noticed we have more interesting and enlightening discussions. Maybe he just never wanted to be the reason I voted for anything 😉

  7. Heather says:

    I’ve found our political differences to be fodder for some really fun and interesting discussions / debates as well as some good natured ribbing and joking. I think it’s definitely made me evaluate what I believe and be able to justify my political leanings. I think it’s strengthened both of us. It’s definitely more interesting than “preaching to the choir” whenever I have something to rant about.

  8. G says:

    thanks everyone, for your comments! I think what has made it so mellow for us is that we are both pretty laid back, AND on the more controversial/divisive issues, we are on the same page.

    Vada and Caroline~ I do wonder how we’d react if we happened to be on different sides of something like prop. 8.

    (Caroline, I’m so sorry that was such a painful situation… I had heard lots about how prop 8 divided wards, created tensions between members etc, I had not put as much thought into what such a mixing of church and politics would do to marriages. /Shuddering)

  9. My husband and I don’t always vote for the same presidential candidates, but on local issues and candidates he asks me to write him a list of who and what I’m voting for because I take the time to be more informed and well-read.

  10. Erin says:

    We were the exact opposite of your story this year. Usually we both figure out who/what to vote for on our own, though we do discuss our various thoughts throughout the season. But this year my husband turned to me and said, “Okay, you need to tell me who/what to vote for.” The only reason that happened was because he simply did not have time to look the people/issues up. I told him how I was voting, adding that he could vote however he wants.

    I’m not entirely comfortable telling anyone how I’ve voted, even my husband. I’m not sure my parents ever told each other how they voted, though I’m sure they discussed candidates and issues beforehand, and they certainly never told us kids how they voted. Looking back, I’m grateful for that. I think that some of that was done intentionally, trying to let us grow up to think about politics ourselves and not mold us into one party or another.

  11. Christian says:

    I think you’d be surprised at how similar homosexual couples are too heterosexual couples in relationship matters. Although I guess that we do have a tendency for less divergency in political matters, especially in the general election here in Utah where it’s abundantly clear who our political foes are. I’ve noticed in our relationship that the big discussions are typically during the primary season.

    In non-partisan contests, my husband typically takes my counsel since I spend more time researching the lower profile but, in my opinion, more significant community races.

  12. nat kelly says:

    If DH and I disagree about a given candidate or ballot initiative, we’ll talk and try to persuade each other for a while, but we are fine if we end up voting differently.

    That said, occasionally, one of us will have had more time than the other to research all the races – it takes time to dig into who you should vote for for judicial positions or all the city council positions. If that happens, we might “tell” each other who to vote for, because we mostly agree with each other, and trust each other’s opinions if we haven’t had time to come up with them on our own.

    Sadly, I don’t think the relationship model you describe in the OP is as rare as we’d like it to be. One of our married-couple friends is an evangelical couple that adheres pretty strongly to the man leading the home and the woman submitting thing. The husband is actually pretty domineering and controlling, and I’ve watched the wife dwindle from a really independent, ambitious, creative person into a tiny little person that he wants by his side. 🙁 Anyway, during the 2008 election season, she and I were talking about the presidential candidates, and how she, as a nurse from Canada who grew up in Europe, really supports universal health care. But she didn’t think she would vote for Obama, because he husband supported McCain. She looked at me and asked me nervously, “Would you and your husband ever vote differently?”


  13. el oso says:

    The phone message is not necessarily bad as you describe it. Was the message solicited by the wife because her husband is much better informed? I would love to have had my wife (or another very trusted person) call me and detail the best judges and local officials for whom to vote. I just did not have time to research all of the people on the ballot. There were also many ballot initiatives to consider, and I listened to local politician’s opinions on these state measures.
    None of the ballot measures were as high profile as prop 8, but some were very flimsy, trying to address non-existent problems.

  14. G says:

    christian~ thank you! I was hoping to get at least one or two comments if same-sex partnerships were similar.

    and course-correction, erin, el oso… thank you for the perspective: I’m finding I view a role-reversal of that “voting instruction” example with much less abhorrence (ie, I like the idea of a husband asking the wife how he should vote.)

    And my friend may have solicited that list from her husband (we didn’t discuss the incident much). The incident simply triggered some of my wider aversions to traditionally gendered husband-leads-the-wife relationships (and their relationship is heavily traditional that way).

  15. G says:

    (hm.. that part to christian came out wrong: what I meant to say was something along the lines of ‘thank you christian, for your input on how same sex partners address political similarities/differences in their relationships.’ 🙂 )

  16. Margaret says:

    My husband and I met in the College Democrats and are both very politically active and dedicated to our political beliefs. I like that we’re almost always on the same page politically (less tension, since we’re highly political people) but I believe it’s perfectly fine for couples to vote differently if they’re in a mixed-political marriage.

    We used to do our own research separately, but our lives have gotten busier. Since we always ended up reaching the same place anyway, we started dividing up the work. We switch election cycles for who does the research on local offices and ballot initiatives. Before the election, whoever did the research presents both sides of the argument to the other and argues for why he/she picked a side. We trust each other’s political opinions enough that this works for us.

    BTW, this is also the strategy we use for doing taxes. We take turns so that each does it every other year. It’s a variation on ‘divide and conquer’ without one person always doing the mucky work.

  17. Ziff says:

    Somewhat tangential, but you remind me, G, that I miss being in Arizona, where anyone who wants to can vote by mail. I so enjoyed being able to get a ballot in the mail and sit down with it with all the descriptions of ballot propositions the state had mailed out and handy access to the internet and then fill it out bit by bit, looking stuff up if I didn’t know about it. I recall my wife and I did that together at least once.

    Do they still allow all that fun voting by mail? I hope so.

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