As the realm of politics has grown to swallow everything from school curriculum to health care, a poll released Monday suggests that roughly two-thirds of Americans hope to avoid discussing politics with friends and family at Thanksgiving tables this year.
Quinnipiac University surveyed 1,378 U.S. adults between Nov. 11 and 15 and found that 66% wanted to avoid talk of politics during get-togethers with family and friends this week. Only about 21% reported looking forward to some political back and forth. Distaste for the debate cut across party lines with 68% of Republicans, 66% of Democrats, and 69% of independents reporting they wished to avoid politics this year.
“A heaping serving of political back and forth with your cranberries and stuffing? No way, say Americans, who would far rather feast on the big meal than feud with each other on Turkey Day,” Tim Malloy, a polling analyst at Quinnipiac University, said in a press release.
Melissa Whitson, a professor of community psychology at the University of New Haven, said many families find it easy enough to set aside divisive issues for the holiday. She said it helps if someone in the family asks everyone to avoid topics they know will lead to dispute.
“Even if someone starts bringing something up, don’t feel the need to defend yourself or things like that,” Whitson said. “Just change the subject … have other things ready to talk about.”
According to the Quinnipiac poll, roughly half of Americans surveyed expected to avoid heated debates with their families. But in some families, politics can seem inescapable. Whitson said avoiding hot-button topics can be especially difficult for people who feel their identities are under attack by the political beliefs of others.
“We have college students here, if they’re going home and they identify as trans or gay or other things where they know their family members aren’t approving or approve politics that are directly prejudicial and discriminatory towards them, that can be really difficult,” she said.
Whitson recommended people ensure they have support systems in place ahead of time if they feel their Thanksgiving gatherings may impact their mental health.
Gary Rose, a political science professor at Sacred Heart University, said politics has become a dicier issue for many people as it has concentrated increasingly on social issues and culture wars. For some, taboo subjects may include discussion of diversity, the teaching of historical racism in schools, and abortion laws, Rose said. Other topics that may trigger debate include discussion of racial or gender equity and inclusion, he said.
“It’s the stuff that really involves race, and religious beliefs, and moral perspectives on issues. That doesn’t work on a Thanksgiving table,” Rose said. “It just doesn’t.”
During a press conference last week, Dr. Ulysses Wu, chief epidemiologist at Hartford HealthCare, encouraged residents to have conversations with their friends and families about the vaccination status and health of the people attending Thanksgiving events. However, on Monday, Rose said it was another subject with the potential to spark a political debate.
“COVID itself, the whole issue,” Rose said. “Vaccinations, we can add that too.”
Excessive alcohol intake can also be a factor when conversations devolve into arguments, Whitson said. She recommended that anyone looking to avoid heated debate remember there are times better suited for debating emotional issues.
“We just have to acknowledge that we’re not going to change anyone’s mind at the Thanksgiving table,” she said. “Even if people do start bringing stuff up, just know that’s not the time to have that discussion.”