Educators often voice concerns about the “achievement gap.” Now, a new “gap” has the attention of policymakers. Republicans are winning parents at the polls, and this “parent gap” has Democrats worried.
“Married parents have become culturally estranged from the Democratic Party,” said Barbara Whitehead [pictured], a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute.
The parent gap emerged in the 2000 election when George W. Bush bettered Al Gore by 15% among married parents. In 2004, Republicans increased their margin with George W. Bush winning 59% of the married parent vote to John Kerry’s 40%.
In a new paper, “Closing the Parent Gap,” released by the PPI, Whitehead explores the emergence of and remedy to the parent gap. She joined an April 8 panel discussion with Will Marshall, president of PPI, and Norman Rosenberg, president of Parents’ Action for Children, an advocacy group founded by Rob Reiner.
Popular culture motivates the parent gap. “Parents do have a beef with popular culture,” Whitehead said.
Republicans control the dialogue on popular culture and moral concerns, and the public sees Democrats as allied with Hollywood. Many parents consider “Democrats more on the side of MTV, not the PTA,” Whitehead said.
Married couples trend conservative when they become parents. Even those who identified as liberals or moderates often vote for Republicans. Data from the 2004 election showed that many parents voted on the basis of moral concerns, and many parents believe that “popular culture is making it harder to teach kids right from wrong,” Whitehead said.
“Democrats can respond to this culturally estranged group,” Whitehead said, noting the gains Republicans have made in connecting Democrats to causes that many parents see as oppositional to their duties, such as those favored by the entertainment industry. Democrats [need to] build a stronger pro-parent identification,” she said.
Whitehead added that a Democratic response “doesn’t necessarily mean regulation or legislation.” Democrat should rely on the “power of the bully pulpit” and “tell parents what they do is important.”
Whitehead and Norman Rosenberg both emphasized the need to build a progressive movement to diminish the parent gap. Democrats should let parents know that the government is willing to help them raise their children, according to Whitehead and Rosenberg.
“Parents want help with their own kids,” Rosenberg said. Democrats, however, should not overreach because “For many people parenting is a very personal endeavor.”
The Democrats, according to Rosenberg, should emphasize comprehensive policies on family issues, such as programs for the 10 million children who don’t have adult supervision after school and other progressive education initiatives.
He advocates a social advocacy movement, similar to the movement the AARP has launched against Social Security reform.
Democrats and Republicans have recently joined together to examine the effect of popular culture on children. Republican senators Sam Brownback and Rick Santorum and Democrats Hillary Clinton and Joe Lieberman introduced the Children and Media Research Advancement Act. The act will fund a study on the influence of electronic media on children, as well as the connection between electronic media and obesity.
Larry Scholer is a staff writer at Accuracy in Academia.