Dr. Clearly said that her research has shown that this trend is driven in part by the fact that women have been more directly involved in politics since the second wave of the feminist movement in the mid-20th century – and are more likely to make it a priority in finding a husband with whom they politically agree.
The same goes for parents and their children. On issues of partisanship and political views – including what scientists call the “scale of racial resentment” – young people are more likely to hold similar views of their parents as they did in the mid-1970s or even the 1990s.
As a result, Dr. Tedin on Thanksgiving: “If there are differences of opinion, almost everyone in the nuclear family – mom, dad, and the kids – will be on one side and the cousins on the other.”
But most of the time they are probably walking around each other on tiptoe. “Polarized policies increase avoidance in families,” he said. “You might think polarized politics means they’ll fight on Thanksgiving, but no – it’s the opposite. Polarized politics increases the pressure to avoid conflict while on vacation.”
The propensity to avoid conflict does not necessarily mean that disagreements are inevitable when the conversation turns to politics. Matthew Levendusky, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania who studies political polarization, said that such conflicts do not necessarily become hostile when they arise. And whether it’s tough or easy, added Dr. Levendusky added, these conversations are fundamental to the functioning of a democracy – especially at a time when social media and cable news often play the most extreme elements of any party.
In 2016, Dr. Levendusky carried out a study which found that the differences between the two parties tended to be grossly overestimated. “We asked people where their position is and where they think the average Republican and Democratic positions are,” he said. “Basically, they thought the parties were twice as far apart on a variety of issues as they were in reality.”
Now he’s working on a book on how people with different perspectives can overcome their political animus. Just talking to each other is important in bridging the gap – and it’s often not as painful as people expect it to be. That’s because most Americans are not deeply ideological and political disagreements are not particularly important to them. When he finished researching the book, he and his staff gathered around 500 study participants from across the political spectrum and invited them to speak about politics.