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Political Tension During the 2016 US Election Cut Many Thanksgiving Dinners Short


Medicine, Health Care Political Tension During the 2016…

Published: May 31, 2018.
Released by American Association for the Advancement of Science

In November 2016 in the United States, just after the last presidential election, Thanksgiving — a time that often unites family members of opposing political views — looked a little different, according to a study that’s explored political polarization at the household level; namely, groups of people who had opposing political views spent 20 to 50 minutes fewer at the Thanksgiving table than politically like-minded groups. This reduction in time spent together among politically opposed view holders was exacerbated for those exposed to high amounts of political advertisements. American political partisanship has risen sharply over the past 25 years, with more than 55% of Democrats and Republicans describing “very unfavorable” feelings toward the opposing party in 2016, up from about 20% in the mid-1990s. While these political divisions are well-studied at the level of public institution and political process, Keith Chen and Ryne Rohla sought to explore how political tension is affecting dynamics at the household level. They used anonymous smartphone-location data from more than 10 million Americans to track the amount of time spent at Thanksgiving dinner in 2016. To determine party affiliation, the researchers analyzed presidential election data from about 172,000 precincts across 99.9% of counties nationally. They found a strong reduction in meal length at tables that included guests with opposing political views, where, on average, Democrats shortened their visits to Republican hosts by about 20 to 40 min, and Republicans shortened their visits to Democrats by about 50 to 70 min. Using political advertising data, Chen and Rohla found that cross-partisan Thanksgiving dinners were further shortened by around 2.6 min on average for every 1,000 political advertisements aired in the traveler’s home media market. Of note, some media markets in swing states saw more than 26,000 advertisements over the course of the campaign, implying approximately a 69-min-shorter Thanksgiving dinner for vote-mismatched families in Orlando, for example, compared to those in markets without advertising. Nation-wide, partisan differences cost Americans 73.6 million hours spent interacting with another person during Thanksgiving in 2016.

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