The 2016 Election Is Still Straining Relationships

Political stress is taking a toll on families and couples, new polls show.
The contentious 2016 presidential election between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton is still affecting Americans' relationships.
Mark Ralston/Pool via Getty Images
The contentious 2016 presidential election between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton is still affecting Americans' relationships.

Amy once considered herself incredibly close with her family, with no discussion off-limits. That all shifted starting on Nov. 8, 2016.

In the year since the presidential election, tension has significantly increased with some of her relatives ― including one parent and sibling ― who voted for Donald Trump and are “proud of the win,” she says. It has become difficult for her to even bring up current events, because somehow it all comes back to the election outcome and turns into a debate.

“We were never a family that couldn’t talk to each other, we didn’t avoid politics even when views were different,” said Amy, 42, who agreed to speak about her family’s private dynamics on the condition that her last name not be used. “Holidays weren’t awkward, but they are now.”

Amy’s experience is far from unique: About 40 percent of voters in last year’s election said at least one member of their family voted for a different candidate than they did, according to a new HuffPost/YouGov poll. Of that group, 40 percent said differing political views have been either a major or minor problem with their family since the 2016 presidential election.

The poll also found that these types of differences can have implications on family relationships. Fifteen percent of people said they have argued with a family member about politics this year, and 6 percent of people have changed or canceled family plans to avoid getting into a heated political discussion.

Romantic relationships in the age of Trump

Unsurprisingly, the strife transcends family relationships. According to the poll, 36 percent of voters who backed a different candidate from their significant other said that has been either a major or minor problem in their relationship.

Differing political values may be particularly straining for long-term relationships, according to Lisa Reynolds, a Connecticut-based therapist and program director at Iona College’s Department of Marriage and Family Therapy. Reynolds says that while opposite beliefs might not have been an issue between partners before, the constant, public conversation about the political landscape has thrust the topic into daily dialogues.

“I’ve personally seen this come up with so many couples who are already in treatment and I’ve even had a couple start therapy specifically because of their political differences,” Reynolds said. “It’s truly a significant issue.”

The phenomenon is also having an effect on future relationships. A recent Ozy and SurveyMonkey national poll found that 17 percent of millennials said they wouldn’t even consider dating someone who had differing political opinions. The survey also found that 64 percent of people overall said it was important for them to have a partner who shares their views.

Rachel Sussman, a New York-based therapist and relationship expert, says the strain on romantic partnerships over politics isn’t a surprise. Often what makes couples compatible is shared core values.

“Sometimes the key to a successful relationship is what you have in common with your partner,” Sussman told HuffPost. “You can get a couple who is really on opposite pages politically and it can be a problem. I’ve seen some clients who can agree to disagree but a lot of others really struggle with it.”

How to manage it

All of this isn’t to say that political disagreements from the last year are doomed to destroy families or partnerships. Reynolds points out that communication plays a big role in successful relationships, but that’s particularly true for couples or families who may be going through this issue.

“Poor communication is at the crux of disagreements you’re struggling to navigate,” she said. “People who are most affected by this issue usually feel unheard by their partner or may have already been experiencing deeper problems in the relationship.”

Sussman also agrees communication is vital to sorting out tough political disagreements. It’s also important to hear the other person’s side and acknowledge their concerns while still expressing your own, she said. That could mean saying something like, “I don’t agree with this person’s stance on this issue, but I see how you’re concerned about this other issue.”

“I try to encourage them to find some common ground,” Sussman said.

When it comes to family members, experts suggest setting ground rules with loved ones about political discussions and focusing on what you can control in the situation. They also recommend that you control your own stress levels by going for a walk or leaning on friends if there’s a contentious conversation that affects you.

Amy hopes her relatives ― and everyone else experiencing similar situations ― understand how much of an effect political divisiveness can have.

“The anxiety is real,” she said. “The constant feeling of dread may go away but not soon enough.”

Use the widget below to further explore the results of the HuffPost/YouGov survey, using the menu at the top to select survey questions and the buttons at the bottom to filter the data by subgroups:

The HuffPost/YouGov poll consisted of 1,000 completed interviews conducted Nov. 3-5 among U.S. adults, using a sample selected from YouGov’s opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population.

HuffPost has teamed up with YouGov to conduct daily opinion polls. You can learn more about this project and take part in YouGov’s nationally representative opinion polling. More details on the polls’ methodology are available here.

Most surveys report a margin of error that represents some, but not all, potential survey errors. YouGov’s reports include a model-based margin of error, which rests on a specific set of statistical assumptions about the selected sample rather than the standard methodology for random probability sampling. If these assumptions are wrong, the model-based margin of error may also be inaccurate. Click here for a more detailed explanation of the model-based margin of error.

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