Home Opinion The Counter Opinion: Are political discussions welcome during the holidays?

The Counter Opinion: Are political discussions welcome during the holidays?

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With the holiday season fast approaching and recent events in the news, some may be worried about the political discussions that — for most families — are bound to occur at the dinner table. 

Mattel has caught on to this trend and considered it a unique marketing opportunity. They have created a limited-edition “Nonpartisan Uno” deck that does not have red and blue cards and contains a veto card that can skip anyone who starts talking about politics.

Fortune recently posted an article about how to deal with political talk at work — a discussion that 66% of employees say they hear more of it at work than a few years ago. No matter the location, it seems that the political discussion is increasing everywhere and is not always welcome.

We asked our opinion writers to discuss whether these locations are appropriate to discuss politics and how this reflects the recent political shifts in the U.S. Contributing are Emma Stefanick, a freshman journalism major, Zach Richards, a sophomore education major and Charlotte Caldwell, a sophomore journalism major.

Should political conversation be avoided or encouraged in nonpolitical settings?

Emma: If only 35% of the U.S. population says they would feel only somewhat comfortable talking about politics with a total stranger, then why would you ever want to discuss politics with the people you know and spend time with on a frequent basis? It’s much easier to talk about triggering topics like politics with someone you have no connection to, knowing you will likely never have an actual encounter with them again than it is to discuss them in everyday life with friends, family and coworkers. 

Due to the nation’s polarization, politics are an extremely tricky subject and disagreements are often taken personally. If someone is offended by a conversation brought up over lunch, it could easily mean the end of a friendship, connection or close bond. Disagreements between parties and their politics can often change the perspective and impression that someone has, and it can deeply affect one’s personal and professional life which is so fragile in today’s age. That said, it’s probably best to keep politics out of nonpolitical settings to avoid deepening the country’s political divide in non-political settings. 

Zach: It just depends on the context. A lot of people are private about their political views or don’t have many political views at all, and talking about politics with these people could bore them or make them uncomfortable. Lively discussion should be encouraged, but two people with differing political views could have their friendship adversely affected by those views if they take them seriously enough. Political discussions between people who agree can help build a friendship, but also ultimately create an echo chamber. Political discussions between people who disagree can help facilitate a dialogue between the two sides, but should really only be done in the right context as there are a time and place for everything. At the same time, it’s possible to have a political discussion without even bringing up any issues. Talking about who’s the most likely to win an election, for example, can be done without necessarily identifying anyone in the conversation as a liberal or conservative.

Charlotte: As someone with family members who are deeply politically divided and are likely to bring up politically charged conversations at the dinner table, I know how awkward and tense these situations can get. It seems that neither side ever finds a middle ground, and the argument typically goes from a civil discussion to a borderline shouting match. If the people in the argument can’t hold a civil discussion with each other — or fail to see each other’s point of view — then political conversation should be discouraged and avoided in nonpolitical settings to save everyone the heartache. If this were possible for everyone, then the growing partisan divide in the U.S. wouldn’t be nearly as large or continue to grow at an ever-increasing rate.

 

Has the U.S. become more partisan?

Emma: The U.S. is absolutely becoming more partisan with every election that occurs, and it is especially noticeable with the 2020 election next year. As politicians begin to broadcast political advertisements, notice the focus on the destruction — not just of an opposing candidate — but of the opposing party platform entirely. 

On countless occasions, President Donald Trump has rallied more Republicans together with the statement that the entire Democratic population is the problem with our country. The U.S. is becoming more partisan by the fact that each party sees the other as an enemy. According to U.S. News, 48% of the country believes that the Republican Party has been taken over by racists and 44% say that the Democratic Party has been taken over by socialists. 

Politics are no longer just politics — they are deeply personal and emotional connections to how we think our country should act and people are bringing this into their everyday lives, creating a deep, national divide. 

Does media coverage of certain topics contribute to more political discussions?

Emma: When the media decides to cover certain issues within the presidency or politics in general, people supporting both parties appear to be extremely defensive of the issues which they believe are important. Topics in regards to race, sexuality and religion are particularly popular and circulate most when the Democratic Party and the Republican Party disagree on the issue. A lot of the discussions that arise from this are a direct result of political polarization — someone is so devoted to a particular party that anything the party institutes are instantly supported. The opposing party then has to defend their beliefs, causing a war between the parties on who is right and who is wrong. As a result of polarization, politics has become like a football game where someone always has to win in the end. This has consequently been instituted into the mass public through the media. 

Zach: People are just more likely to find out about something if the media covers it a lot. In August of 2018, just 48% of Americans could name a single justice on the Supreme Court. Less than two months later, after extensive media coverage, 91% of Americans had an opinion on Brett Kavanaugh. Media coverage is how most people learn about political topics, and the more media coverage something gets, the more people are going to see it and the more people are going to know about it

Charlotte: The media have a habit of covering topics to the point of overkill. With many news outlets participating in 24-hour news cycles, it can seem like the same information of a story is repeated over and over again in different ways until new information becomes available. If someone with deep partisan feelings is presented with information that fires them up, they are likely to talk about it with whoever will listen, therefore increasing political discussion in wanted and unwanted situations.

The media have an obligation to the public to ensure that the information they are presenting so these conversations are possible is fair and accurate. However, the media has frequently not abided to this, especially in news coverage with rapidly breaking news. For example, after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, the media falsely claimed that the city was “in the grips of apocalyptic horror and unimaginable mayhem.” The political conversation turned to the citizens of New Orleans, but not with the tone it should have had after such a devastating event.

Extensive news coverage can have some benefits, however. It can get everyone informed on topics they should have awareness of, either directly or indirectly. In this instance, increased political discussion about topics that affect the majority should be encouraged so everyone has a chance to contribute to the discussion.

 

Please note that these views and opinions do not reflect those of The New Political.

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