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Surveyed women believe John and Elizabeth Edwards have the happiest marriage, according to a new national survey by Ladies' Home Journal. Surprisingly, the poll found that 35 percent of American women say their opinion about the happiness of a presidential candidate's marriage will affect their vote either a great deal (13%) or somewhat (22%) in the upcoming election.
"This poll reflects a fairly recent -- and historically unprecedented -- change in people's expectations of marriage and of public figures," says Stephanie Coontz, a nationally acclaimed marriage historian and contributing editor to Ladies' Home Journal. "Only in the past 50 years have people begun to judge a marriage more by its internal emotional quality than by its public appearance of respectability."
More than half of all women (52%) believe Elizabeth and John Edwards have a happy marriage, followed by:
Michelle and Barack Obama, 43%
Cindy and John McCain, 35%
Judith and Rudy Giuliani, 34%
Hillary and Bill Clinton, 29%
Ann and Mitt Romney, 24%
Jeri and Fred Thompson, 20%
Barbara and Bill Richardson, 12%
Interestingly, the Edwardses scored consistently across political parties while results for the other couples broke along party lines.
Coontz says the Giulianis' 34% happiness ranking in the poll is "an interesting sign of change. People are willing to give male politicians, at least, a second, or even third, chance at happiness."
Reflecting on the Clintons' 29% happiness results, Coontz adds that their score may reflect the persistence of one tradition: "Women tend to be judged more harshly than men for not having a happy marriage," she says. "Additionally, Hillary Clinton has become a lightning rod for our ambivalence about how women can combine careers with family. She's blamed for being too concerned with her own career and independent of her family; and she's also blamed for not packing up and leaving her husband. We prefer our strong woman figures to have no other attachments.
On the other hand, this poll also shows that significantly more African-American than Caucasian women (62% versus 39%, respectively) say that their perceptions of the happiness level of a candidate's marriage would not affect their voting decision.
The survey of 502 women was carried out from September 6 to September 10 and had a margin of error of 4.4 percent.
Originally published on LHJ.com, October 2007.