Turkey, parades, football, and impending shopping get the big headlines, but Thanksgiving is often a day when family members with different world views get together and argue at the dining room table about society. In 2016, less than three weeks after Donald Trump’s stunning presidential election victory, the discourse was worse than usual, apparently. A new study published by Stanford University analyzes the “effects of political partisanship and advertising on family ties.”
Authors M. Keith Chen and Ryne Rohla used smartphone location-tracking data and a national database of precinct returns to identify Thanksgiving gatherings that brought together individuals with diverse political identities. On one side of the familial debates were people arguing that Trump would usher in a revived white supremacy movement in America. On the other side were relatives quoting Russian misinformation they saw on Facebook. Chen and Rohla found that, in these households, the disagreements were too much to bear, and Thanksgiving dinners were much shorter compared to T-Day 2015.
... [O]ur results suggest partisan differences cost American families 62 million person-hours of Thanksgiving time, 56.8 percent from individuals living in Democratic precincts and 43.2 percent from Republican precincts. Political advertising eliminated an additional 3.3 million person-hours, 52.8 percent from Democratic precinct residents and 47.2 percent from Republican residents. We estimate 27 million person-hours of cross-partisan discourse were eliminated, which may provide a feedback channel by which partisan antipathy reduces opportunities for close cross-party conversations.
Should Chen and Rohla conduct a follow-up study for the 2017 holiday, the results could tell one of two stories. “Person-hours” might continue to decrease because the past year has been just a bit polarizing. Or, maybe, the researchers would find an increase in family time due to the fact that, at this point, Americans are just cutting friends and family on the other side of the political spectrum out of their lives.