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Palin daughter’s pregnancy stirs GOP convention

But delegates say pregnancy humanizes the nominee for vice president.

By Staff writer / September 2, 2008

FAMILY matters: Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin exited the stage at a rally Friday in Dayton, Ohio, with daughters Willow and Bristol, far left, holding Palin’s infant son Trig.

Mary Altaffer/AP


St. Paul, Minn.

If there’s one thing everyone can agree on about Sarah Palin, John McCain’s choice of running mate, it’s that she is one busy woman.

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She is governor of Alaska, now running for vice president, and is raising five children, including a special-needs baby. On the first day of the convention, Ms. Palin and her husband disclosed that their 17-year-old daughter is five months pregnant, and will have the baby, and marry the father.

In the past, the typical view of social conservatives would have been that Palin should be at home with her family. But social scientists have found that this attitude has shifted in the last 15 years or so, says Jim Guth, an expert on the politics of Christian conservatives at Furman University in Greenville, S.C.

“Among religious conservatives, there may be some kind of notion that a mother’s place is in the home, but that’s pretty well disappeared [from] reality,” Professor Guth says. “Most Christian conservatives are in the workforce. They understand that they have to be in the workforce and others like them have to be in the workforce. It’s a modern reality.”

Guth notes that the view of acceptable roles for fathers has also expanded and that in the Palins’ case, as her political career has soared, her husband has taken on more of the family duties.

Survey data bear out the shift in attitudes. In 1987, a Pew Research Center survey found that only 25 percent of Republicans and 20 percent of white evangelical Protestants completely disagreed with this statement: “Women should return to their traditional roles in society.”

In 2007, the numbers had shifted to 41 percent and 42 percent. Among Americans overall, the number rose from 29 percent to 51 percent.
James Dobson, head of Focus on the Family, an influential Christian conservative organization, has long asserted that mothers should be at home, but even he has embraced the selection of Palin and now says he’ll vote for the GOP ticket.

Gary Bauer, head of the group American Values, is also enthusiastic about Palin. “She will do more to promote the values of conservative pro-family people by making the sacrifices that come with this kind of government service” than by staying at home, says Mr. Bauer, who ran for president in 2000.

Monday’s revelation that Palin’s daughter Bristol is pregnant stunned conventiongoers and took McCain’s campaign even farther away from its message – that Democrat Barack Obama is not ready to lead – than did hurricane Gustav.