Partisanship and Political Animosity in 2016
3. Partisan environments, views of political conversations and disagreements
For the most part, people have politically mixed friend groups, although both Republicans and Democrats are more likely to say they have a lot of friends from their own party than from the opposing party.
The partisan diversity of people’s friend networks is linked to how people feel about the members of the other party, particularly among Republicans. Those who have at least some close friends in the other party tend to feel less coldly toward people in that party than those with few friends of the opposing party. And among Republicans, those who have close Democratic friends hold fewer negative stereotypes of Democrats than those who do not.
During this campaign year, most people discuss politics and government at least a few times a week. Yet for many, talking politics with those who disagree with them can be an unsatisfying experience. About half describe such conversations as “interesting and informative,” but nearly as many call them “stressful and frustrating.” And most say when they discuss politics with people they disagree with, they find they have less in common politically than they had thought.
Partisan environments: friends, spouses and family ties
Overall, friendships with people who share a party are more common than friendships across party lines. Yet most Americans have at least some political diversity among their close friends: Large majorities of both Democrats and Republicans say they have at least a few close friends from the other party.
Though few in either party say that they have “a lot” of friends in the other party (just 7% of Republicans and 6% of Democrats), Republicans are more likely than Democrats to say they have at least a few close friends in the opposing party. More than eight-in-ten Republicans (84%) say they have at least a few Democratic friends; just 14% report that they have no close Democratic friends. Three-quarters of Democrats (74%) say they have at least a few close Republican friends, while roughly a quarter (24%) say they have no close Republican friends.
At the same time, four-in-ten Republicans (40%) and 48% of Democrats say that they have “a lot” of close friends of their own party, and nearly all partisans have at least a few close friends who share their party.
While many Republicans and Democrats have politically diverse networks of friends, the vast majority of those who are married or living with a partner say their spouse or partner belongs to the same political party. Fully 77% of Republicans who are married or living with a partner – and an identical percentage of married Democrats – say their spouse belongs to the same party.
Mixed political relationships are rare: Just 9% of Republicans say their spouse or partner is a Democrat, while roughly the same share of Democrats (8%) say their spouse is a Republican.
In a study of political polarization in 2014, relatively few Republicans (22%) or Democrats (19%) said they would be unhappy if an immediate family member married someone from the other party. On the other hand, just 5% in each party said they would be happy about a mixed political marriage. Most (71% of Republicans, 76% of Democrats) said it would not matter.
Most Americans have adopted the party that they grew up with, though Democrats (70%) are more likely than Republicans (56%) to have grown up in a family that always or mostly supported candidates of their current party.
This difference between the family environments of Republicans and Democrats is largely the result of many older Republicans reporting having grown up in families that supported Democrats: Among Republicans ages 65 and older, roughly as many say their families almost always or mostly supported Democratic candidates (42%) as say they always or mostly supported Republicans (37%). By comparison, 68% of Republicans younger than 50 say they grew up in Republican households, identical to the share of Democrats younger than 50 who say they grew up in Democratic households (68%). Similarly, roughly seven-in-ten older Democrats say their families backed Democratic candidates when they were growing up.
Personal connections linked to feelings about the ‘other side’
Having friendships that cross party lines is associated with feelings about the opposing party, especially among Republicans. Fully 83% of Republicans with “just a few” or no close Democratic friends give Democrats cold thermometer ratings (0-49), and 62% give them very cold ratings (0-24). By contrast, Republicans with at least some Democratic friends are less likely to give Democrats cold ratings: 60% rate them at least somewhat cold, with just 30% feeling very coldly toward them.
Differences among Democrats are not as stark, but nearly half (49%) of Democrats with just a few or no close Republican friends rate Republicans very coldly, compared with 31% of those with at least some Republican friends.
Similarly, Republicans with just a few or no Democratic friends are more likely than those who have more Democratic friendships to say Democrats are closed-minded (17 percentage points more likely), unintelligent (+17 points), immoral (+16 points) and dishonest (+14) when compared with other Americans. On these same dimensions, they also are more likely to associate the positive side of these traits with Republicans.
As with thermometer ratings of the opposing party, these differences are less pronounced among Democrats. When it comes to most traits, Democrats who have few close Republican friends are not significantly more likely to negatively stereotype Republicans than Democrats who have close Republican friends.
Many find political discussions with opponents ‘stressful’
In an era of partisan division, Republicans and Democrats have generally similar views about the value of discussions with people whom they disagree with politically.
Half of Republicans say they generally find such discussions to be “stressful and frustrating,” while 48% find them “interesting and informative.” Democrats also are divided – 46% say conversations with those with whom they disagree are stressful, while 52% say they are interesting.
Nearly two-thirds of Republicans (65%) and 63% of Democrats say that, when they talk politics with those with whom they disagree, they find they have less in common politically than they thought. Only about a third of Republicans (33%) and Democrats (34%) say they find they have more in common politically with those they disagree with.
Among Democrats, a majority (56%) of those with at least a college degree say they find political conversations with those they disagree with to be stressful and frustrating; by contrast, most Democrats (58%) with lower levels of education find such discussions to be interesting and informative. There are only modest educational differences among Republicans in these views. However, Republicans who have a lot or some Democratic friends (51%) are more likely than those who do not (35%) to find these types of conversations interesting.
In both parties, majorities across educational and demographic groups say they find they have less common ground politically when they talk politics with people they disagree with.
Most think a person’s political views ‘say a lot’ about their character
There is broad agreement, again across partisan lines, that someone’s political beliefs say a lot “about the kind of person they are.” Fully 70% of Democrats say one’s political views speak to their character, as do 63% of Republicans. Just 28% of Democrats and 36% of Republicans say a person’s political views do not say much about the kind of person they are.
At the same time, identical majorities of both Republicans and Democrats (59% each) say that political differences do not preclude people agreeing on other, nonpolitical topics. About four-in-ten Republicans and Democrats (38% each) say that if people hold different views on politics they generally will not agree on other topics.
Those who have friends of the other party are much less likely than those who do not to say that political beliefs convey a lot “about the kind of person” someone is: Among Republicans, 58% of those with Democratic friends believe this, while 82% of those with a few or no Democratic friends contend that how people think about politics is indicative of their character. Among Democrats, there is a 9-percentage-point difference in these views (68% vs. 77%).