Why you should care
Because love is part of our societal bubbles.
Whether it’s his approach to immigrants, NFL players’ protests, environmental policy or the treatment of Gold Star families, Laura Van Duyn and her boyfriend of 15 years are arguing often these days about the man in the White House. Van Duyn, 62, of Houston, voted for Hillary Clinton. Her boyfriend voted for Donald Trump. Sometimes the disputes will end in cold silence. “For us not to talk for hours is big,” Van Duyn says. “That never happened before — until Trump got elected. … It could lead to separation.” Bob Picariello, 72, of Atlanta, would rather avoid the trouble. “I have cut off Trump supporters, and Trump supporters have backed away from me on singles dating sites,” Picariello says. “It has become as toxic as smoker or nonsmoker in my experience.”
One year removed from an earth-shaking election, Picariello’s view prevails. An exclusive OZY and SurveyMonkey national poll shows that, by and large, people value having a romantic partner they agree with politically. Overall, 64 percent said it was important to have a partner who shares their political views, including 23 percent who said it was “very important.” An even higher proportion act this out: 71 percent said they voted the same as their partner in last year’s presidential contest, while 13 percent voted differently and 16 percent did not know.
As a result, 75 percent said the election had no impact at all on their relationships. Among respondents in a relationship, 20 percent said the 2016 election opened up dialogue, 3 percent said — like Van Duyn — that it caused fights, 1 percent said it caused them to change their views and none said it irreparably damaged the relationship. So no Trump-related divorces in this group. “Where so many couples voted for the same person, win or lose, I’d imagine they are unlikely to argue with each other about their vote,” says Erin Pinkus, a research scientist for SurveyMonkey who helped conduct the poll.
This OZY/SurveyMonkey online survey was conducted October 17–19 among a national sample of 2,074 adults ages 18 and up. Respondents were selected from the nearly 3 million people who take surveys on the SurveyMonkey platform each day. Data have been weighted for age, race, sex, education and geography using census data to reflect the demographic composition of the United States. The modeled error estimate for this survey is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. (You can see the full results here and read more about SurveyMonkey’s methodology here.)
The intensity of feelings about the need for partisan separation was strongest among the young, as 17 percent of millennials (ages 18–34) said they would not even consider a romantic partner with differing politics, and another 44 percent said it would bother them. Those numbers were higher than those in all older generations, about half of whom said politics did not matter to them in finding a mate. Stung by the election, Clinton voters felt more strongly as well: Just 32 percent of them said a person with differing politics does not matter to a relationship, compared with 52 percent of Trump voters. Independents and nonvoters reported much lower intensity levels.
Rose McDermott, a professor of international relations at Brown University, says the dating pool is part of a larger societal picture. From the places we shop to the media we consume to the neighborhoods we live in, America exists in political bubbles. “Say I’m a Democrat; it’s not like I’m going out into the world saying, ‘I have to get a Democrat,’” McDermott says. “What [happens] is you meet a bunch of people, date or sleep with a bunch of people, and deselect the people who don’t match you. … People are really not aware of it.” Assortative mating, in which two similar people reproduce, means the bubble trend will only grow more pronounced in future generations, McDermott says.
But there are bipartisan couples who make it work in the political cauldron of 2017. Witness Eric Harrison and Lora Scarlet Hawk, of Stone Mountain, Georgia. The two work in politics, and met through writing for a Georgia political blog, so they knew their respective political leanings from the start. And it wasn’t the only impediment: There’s a five-and-a-half-year age difference between the two; Hawk is Baptist, Harrison is Catholic; she’s pro-choice, he’s pro-life. Hawk recalls laying it all out there on their first date in 2014. “I just wanted to be clear that this is who I am and he should not expect me to change,” Hawk says. “But also I validate him, and I was not going to try to change him.”
While they were on opposite political sides, they were careful not to work directly against each other on state races. They sparred over the presidential election, though. “At that level it was a little more difficult,” Harrison says.
Ultimately, Harrison voted for independent conservative Evan McMullin, which bothered the Hillary Clinton–backing Hawk but not as much as voting for Trump would have. The real problem was when Harrison went to work for Georgia Republican Rep. Tom Price, and Price was nominated to be secretary of Health and Human Services. The couple debated whether Harrison would join the Trump administration if called upon. Hawk eventually made peace with the notion that Washington jobs don’t last long, and perhaps at some point she could speak to Price personally about her pre-existing medical condition. Politics hadn’t been a deal breaker so far, so why stop now?
But the offer never came, and the couple remained in the Atlanta area. They’re planning to get married at the end of the year.
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