Americans give more support to paid maternity and parental leave than to paid paternity leave

October 20, 2021, 9:03 PM UTC

Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg has been on parental leave from his post as the Secretary of Transportation since August. In the latest Economist/YouGov Poll, most Americans support paid leave for parents — whether it’s described as paternity leave, parental leave, or maternity leave. Approval of Buttigieg making use of paid parental leave trails support for employers requiring leave — with some stark differences by gender and political party.

Half of the poll’s respondents, chosen at random, were asked about Buttigieg’s “parental” leave. The other half were asked about his “paternity” leave. Framing Buttigieg’s leave as part of broader leave for all parents garners it more approval: 43% strongly or somewhat approve, while 30% strongly or somewhat disapprove. When it’s called paternity leave, those equivalent percentages are 41% and 36% — a net decline of 8 percentage points in approval.

Republicans oppose Buttigieg’s leave by more than two to one; Democrats overwhelmingly are in favor. There is an 11-point gender gap in approval, with women in favor by two to one, and men opposed. 

Currently, half the public aren’t aware of Buttigieg’s leave. Republicans are the most aware: 21% of them have heard a lot about it, compared to 14% of Democrats. But even among Republicans, 47% say they have heard nothing at all, the same as the public overall.

Paid Leave

For many adults, Buttigieg, a candidate in last year’s Democratic presidential primary, is not a prominent public figure. A third of Americans say they can’t rate him, while opinion about him is clearly partisan: 58% of Democrats are favorable, 58% of Republicans are not. But there may be more to this opinion. Nearly half of men hold an unfavorable opinion of the Transportation Secretary, while just 25% of women do. He similarly polarized opinion by gender in a March 2020 poll.

In principle, requiring employers to provide paid paternity leave is popular, though there are differences in opinion by gender and party. Twice as many Americans support paid paternity leave as oppose it, with women 17 points more in favor of it than men are. More Republicans oppose paternity leave than are in favor. Paid maternity leave is more popular, though women are more supportive of it than men are, and fewer than half of Republicans support it. 

The term “parental leave” elicits support, too, with the proportion of Americans in favor (59%) fitting right in between the 55% in favor of paid paternity leave and the 63% who support paid maternal leave. The differences on these questions between men and women, and between Republicans and Democrats, is consistent no matter how the leave is described.

Republicans give the same support to the parental leave wording as they do to the question about maternity leave. A double-digit gender gap exists on all three questions.

But when it comes to Buttigieg’s situation, there are more Republicans who disapprove of his leave than disapprove of requiring that paid leave be provided, more generally. Three in 10 (29%) Republicans who say employers should be required to offer paid parental or paternity leave somewhat or strongly disapprove of Buttigieg’s leave. (Not enough Democrats in the poll said they opposed parental or paternity leave to see what proportion nonetheless approved of Buttigieg’s.)

See the toplines and crosstabs from this Economist/YouGov Poll

Methodology: The Economist survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,500 U.S. adult citizens interviewed online between October 16 - 19, 2021. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, and education based on the 2018 American Community Survey, conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, as well as 2020 Presidential vote. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all U.S. citizens. The margin of error is approximately 3% for the overall sample. 

Image: Getty