Someone I know from high school told me she had a 37-year friendship end in November because of politics. It got me wondering how common this is, so I did some poking around on the internet. Turns out, there’s a seemingly endless number of stories about people ending friendships, family relationships and even marriages over politics.

I didn’t see any breakup statistics from our latest election because it might be too soon to compile and publish them, but a May 2017 study from Wakefield Research found that 11% of couples, spanning both married and unmarried couples, ended their relationships because of political disagreements. That number doubled to 22% among millennials. The study also found that 22% of Americans know a couple whose marriage or relationship ended or was negatively impacted specifically because of the 2016 election.

A survey from Monmouth University regarding the 2016 election found that 7% of voters lost or ended a friendship as a result of that year’s president race. As divisive as that election was, it’s safe to assume breakup numbers didn’t go down in 2020.

As I was looking for stats, I came across several articles actively encouraging people to leave their spouse or the person they were dating if they voted a certain way. It struck me as incredibly irresponsible to advocate for breakups and divorces because of politics, especially in a predominately two-party system.

I see a lot of chest beating on social media with people posting that if you vote for a certain candidate, then unfriend them. It’s a rather adolescence approach.

I’ve never voted for anyone because I completely agree with all of their positions, and I certainly don’t identify with the extremist branch of their party. But when I realistically have only two choices, I sometimes feel like I’m filling in circles for the candidates I think will do the least amount of damage. They’re hardly votes of confidence or a legitimate reason to end a friendship.

It’s odd to me that people choose to alienate others for having a different political ideology. I have friends and immediate family members on both sides of the spectrum, and I enjoy our political conversations. We’re civil and respectful, as any conversation should be, and aren’t trying to change each other’s mind. It’s often asking questions and trying to understand a different viewpoint. These types of discussions seem healthy.

For some reason, many people can’t have these conversations. According to a 2018 Pew Research Center study, 53% of Americans found it “stressful and frustrating” to discuss politics with people who disagreed with them. I wonder if it’s because they think the goal of the conversation is to convert the other person rather than share ideas.

Part of the us vs. them mentality might stem from a lot of people not having friends with different political beliefs. Another Pew Research Center study, this one from last summer, found that about 40% of registered voters in both major parties did not have a single close friend who supported the other party’s candidate.

More people seem to be drifting toward a zero-tolerance policy for those who disagree with them. A survey by Comparitech revealed that 44% of respondents deleted someone from their social media due to their political views or posts. The survey also found that 45% of us find it annoying when people discuss politics on social media.

The posts often lead to arguments, which in turn lead to the fulfillment of Godwin’s Law. The law states that the longer an argument goes on, the more likely it is that someone will draw a comparison to Hitler. It’s surprising how often online arguments do in fact descend to bringing up that name.

It’s also one more reason to avoid pointless political arguments on the internet.

Brett Martin is a guest columnist who’s been a Shakopee resident for over 15 years.

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