How To Talk About The Election With Family Members Who Don't Share Your Political Beliefs
Unfortunately, arguing with loved ones over politics isn’t uncommon, and things have been getting particularly tense this election cycle. In fact, according to a HuffPost/YouGov Poll, 26 percent of Americans reportedly got into arguments with friends over this year’s presidential election, and 23 percent of Americans said they’d already gotten into a heated debate with a family member over this year’s presidential race — and that was just as of last May. Earlier this month, The Federalist reported that one in 14 Americans have lost a friend over this presidential election. Last Sunday, ABC News reported that nearly 40 percent of Americans feel tension with loved ones over this election. If all of this sounds as familiar to you as it does to me, then you’re probably wondering how to talk about this election with family and friends who don’t share your political beliefs.
First, let me say this: I don’t think it’s always possible to avoid arguments with loved ones during political discussions. Aside from avoiding the topic altogether, (which, to be honest, might be your best option) the only way to talk to your loved ones about this election is by being as understanding and empathetic as possible. But even if you manage to keep it cool, that doesn’t mean they’ll be able to.
Armed with that knowledge, here are a few safe ways to talk about the election with loved ones who don’t share your political beliefs. Good luck.
Don't Assume They Agree With Everything Their Chosen Candidate Stands For
I don't think anyone who has ever voted in a presidential election can honestly say they agree with every single platform their chosen candidates have run on. Case in point: when I was 18, I voted for John McCain even though I strongly disagreed with his stance on marriage equality. I felt conflicted about it — but pressure from my family members, combined with the fact that I was struggling to become pro-choice at the time, ultimately convinced me to vote republican. I thought Obama seemed like a genuinely nice person, and I literally cried happy tears when he made history by winning — but I just didn't feel like I could vote for him back in 2008. When you think abortion might be the same thing as murder, you're not going to vote for a candidate who supports it. It's just that simple.
So while I know from experience that it would be easy to condemn your loved ones for voting for someone as openly misogynistic, xenophobic, and inexperienced as Donald Trump, it's also not fair to assume all Trump supporters hate women and foreigners. Making these kinds of assumptions won't do your relationships any favors, and it will almost definitely leave your loved ones feeling like garbage.
Try To Understand Why They Feel Compelled To Vote For Their Candidate In The First Place
Until very recently, I felt almost no empathy for anyone who plans to vote Trump. This, despite the fact that my entire family is voting Trump, and I currently live smack-dab in the middle of Trump country. I mean, it's difficult to understand how anyone could vote for a man who thinks women should be punished for making their own choices about their own bodies, frequently blames other people for his own mistakes, and has literally called America, "a dumping ground for the world." All that said, last week I read a piece by Cracked's David Wong that gave me a little bit of perspective on why Trump supporters feel like he's the "lesser of two evils."
Personally, it's easy for me to forget how hopeless so many rural Americans feel about getting ahead financially. I'm not wealthy by any means, but thanks to my Bachelor's degree and this awesome job, I can earn a respectable wage from pretty much anywhere. I'm one of the lucky ones. But as Wong points out in his article, "How Half Of America Lost It's F*cking Mind," the majority of rural Americans are really suffering right now. Rural communities were hit hard by the recession, but most of the recovery went to urban areas. The suicide rate among rural youths is double that of urban young people, and as more and more American jobs are outsourced, the lack of opportunity in rural communities continues to grow. After taking all of this into consideration, it's a little bit easier for me to understand why so many of my loved ones want to vote for a man who keeps promising to "make America great again."
Conversely, when I told my mom a few of the things Trump has said about women, she agreed that he's disgusting, and she gets why I can't vote for him. She's still voting for him, though. In the end, that's her right — and I can at least try to empathize with her on this choice without having to be OK with it.
If Things Get Out Of Hand, Try To Let It Go & Move On
If you're anything like me, then this option is probably going to be difficult for you. That doesn't mean you shouldn't give it a shot, though. As Psychology Today put it in their article about losing friends and family over the election, "We care about those we are close with but we may also hold mixed emotions for them sometimes and may not understand why they act the way they do. Do not expect any relationship to always be about agreement on the issues, and focus on what you have in common."
Ultimately, if you want to get along with family members who don't share your beliefs, there will likely be times when you're going to have to swallow your rebuttals, change the subject, and focus on the many other reasons why you love these people.
Encourage Them To Vote, Period
For women and people of color, securing voting rights has been a battle in this country. For this reason alone, I feel like it's important to encourage every American to exercise their voting rights. So whether your loved ones are so disillusioned by the sh*t show that is this election that they're considering not voting at all, or they're waiting with baited breath to cast a ballot for your candidate's opponent, encourage them to vote. Just don't tell them who to vote for — because no matter how strongly you disagree with their political beliefs, I don't think anyone likes being canvassed by their friends and family. I know I don't.
If You Don't Think You Can Talk About The Election Without Getting Upset, Set Boundaries
It's taken me a few unpleasant arguments to finally realize this, but I can't talk about this election with my conservative family members and friends. I've tried and failed more than once this election season, and it's left me (and probably my loved ones) feeling like crap. Perhaps this is because I've lived away from my mostly-conservative hometown for the past six years. Maybe I'm extra-defensive of Hillary simply because I feel genuinely frightened of a Trump presidency. Either way, I always get upset when I try to discuss this election with my conservative family and friends, so I've decided it's best for me to avoid the topic completely when I'm with them. If you also have a hard time not Hulking out whenever your loved ones start defending their candidate and/or attacking yours, then you might want to respectfully request an embargo on election talk. It's your right to set boundaries.
I know how much it sucks to feel like you can't be open and honest with some of your favorite people, but there's enough ugliness going on with this election already, and you can't force anyone to see your side of things. Don't let the negativity surrounding this race seep into your relationships, because it's just not worth it. Plus, when this election is finally over, you're still going to have get through Thanksgiving dinner.