How politics divide families and friends

April 10, 2021

Americans have never been more divided. Whether in looking at statistics on polarization or just by interacting with other people, the impacts of this division can be seen and felt across the nation. As those impacts intensify, they also extend their reach. Today in America, friends and families, as well as more distant acquaintances, are being torn apart by political division.
Politics have always been a source of strife in the United States. After all, this nation was born from a series of political disputes. Still, recent years have seen more disunity than ever. Recent research has found that 90% of Americans now view their country as divided over politics and 60% feel pessimistic about our ability to overcome such divisions to solve problems. Meanwhile, the number of Americans who feel “very unfavorable” towards their political opponents has grown three-fold since 1994. These statistics all demonstrate that not only do people feel divided by politics, but many also feel that such division is too significant to overcome.
These increases in polarization among regular Americans align with a similar increase among leaders. While politics has always been a divided space, only recently has it been common for Americans to hold entirely different worldviews based on what leaders tell them to believe. Basic facts, like the results of an election, had never before been called into question as they were in 2016 and 2020. To see members of Congress verbally accosting each other was unheard of for a long time. Now, it’s happened at least twice in just the last year. Supporting wild conspiracy theories alleging that Democrats are actually part of a pedophilic cabal was once reserved for fringe believers, not actual members of Congress. It’s hard not to see a connection between all of these changes and changes in Americans’ level of division.
All of this extends to families and friends in harmful ways. Unfortunately, little data exists on how families specifically are being divided by politics. However, reporting from sources like the New York Times has offered a window into the real-life impacts of these large-scale changes. This reporting has told stories of families broken by politics. Among those interviewed, some hadn’t even spoken to family members since the 2016 election. Among those who still spoke, that speaking often came in the form of screaming matches or painful arguments. Meanwhile, others tried to ignore politics entirely when it came to family. With politics becoming more and more ubiquitous in American life, though, that can be difficult, too. No matter how it’s approached and dealt with, politics is often hurting the relationships of those who disagree.
When it comes to friendships and romantic relationships, more concrete evidence of a widening rift is available. YouGov polling showed that from 2016 to 2020, the number of Americans who had no friends with very different political beliefs nearly tripled, going from 7% to 19%. When it comes to romantic relationships, the division is even starker. The “Singles in America” report, a survey of 5,000 Americans conducted in 2020 by the dating company Match, found that 52% did not believe they could have a relationship with someone with very different political views. That number has increased by 15% in the last eight years. It’s clear that more and more, Americans feel they cannot be close in a number of ways with people who have different political views.
All of this information points to a new reality coming in America. People are living in different political realities. Hate and fear are becoming more and more common political tools. Extreme beliefs are becoming common ones. With all of that being true, it’s no wonder that families and friends are more divided than ever. If something big in politics doesn’t change soon, more and more relationships likely will.

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