Academics Find that Partisanship Has Become the Great Divider

Ideas and Issues

New Orleans   Families everywhere in America get together for Thanksgiving.  They travel.  They honor tradition and renew bonds.  They cook and bake.  They eat too much.  They try to talk about how children have grown and how with each advancing year they miraculously haven’t aged a day.  They avoid talking about politics at the table.  According to some huge data crunching of smartphone data, it turns that most of that is still happening, but the impact of rabid partisanship enflamed by political advertising has created a wedge in families across the country.

Ok, we all wondered if this was the case.  Some of us may have suspected it.  Most of us would probably have denied it.  Now the evidence compiled by Professor Keith Chen of UCLA and Professor Ryne Rohla of Washington State reported in Science magazine makes it harder pretend that the Trump Era is not opening up even deeper fissures in families.

The professors managed a pretty amazing feat by using anonymous data from literally millions of cellphones that provided movement and location information on families.  They were able to sort out where people resided and where they journeyed for Thanksgiving and by overlaying voting data from the 2016 election they could identify Democratic precinct residents and Republican precinct leanings.  Looking at the political advertising in geographical markets, they could also tabulate the information with the precinct and dinner locations as well.  Then they compared it all against the 2015 Thanksgiving, a year before the Clinton-Trump contest.

Here’s what they found from their summary:

“…we show that Thanksgiving dinners attended by residents from opposing-party precincts were 30 to 50 minutes shorter than same-party dinners.  Reductions in the duration of Thanksgiving dinner in 2016 tripled for travelers from media markets with heavy political advertising – an effect not observed in 2015 – implying a relationship to election-related behavior.  Although fewer Democratic-precinct residents traveled in 2016 than in 2015, Republican- precinct residents shortened their Thanksgiving dinners by more minutes in response to political differences.  Nationwide, 34 million hours of cross-partisan Thanksgiving dinner discourse were lost in 2016 owing to partisan effects.”

Let’s all agree on one thing:  that can’t be good, either for families or the country.

Don’t write this off as inconsequential and something we’ll easily get past.  The professors note elsewhere in their piece the evidence that political choices at the level of such profound partisanship are a bias that casts a frighteningly wide and divisive net.  Based on other research, they write:

“Animosity towards political rivals is not limited to the ballot box; implicit partisan biases manifest in discriminatory decisions even more frequently than racial or gender biases.  Parents express intolerance of their children dating and marrying across partisan lines, and observed dating and marital choices segregate more strongly on politics than on physical attributes or personality characteristics.  Political polarization affects decisions such as where to work and shop, at higher rates than race, ethnicity, or religion.”

            This increasing division is way more important than whether we like white meat or dark, cranberry slices or berries.  We need to fix this, family to family, if we’re going to fix the country as well.