My wife despises Donald Trump. In fact, she would probably urge me to find a stronger word than “despises” if my vocabulary had no bounds. And, while I may not be 45’s biggest fan, I feel like she often resents me for not obsessively loathing him enough. If I came home from work someday wearing a red Make America Great Again hat, I would be leaving with that hat – and divorce papers – in hand. That’s not an exaggeration.
For the most part, my wife and I are fairly well-aligned in our social and political beliefs. We might just be lucky because I don’t remember talking much about politics when we first started dating a million years ago. Or maybe healthy couples tend to agree on politics because their politics stem from common upbringings, common interests, and common values.
As I’ve watched Trump-inspired vitriol dominate my Facebook feed over the past few months, I couldn’t recall seeing a husband and wife, or any couple for that matter, on opposite sides of the fight. Is that simply because most people find significant others who share their political beliefs? Or, is the current political environment so toxic and so polarizing that couples simply can’t cohabitate if they disagree on Trump?
To explore those questions, I started by sending out a Bat Signal to my extended group of friends on Facebook, seeking whatever qualitative insight I could get. Within hours, I heard from about a dozen friends or friends-of-friends who claim to be functioning in a Trump-divided relationship. These instances all had a few things in common: 1) They were all heterosexual relationships; 2) The male member of the relationship was the Trump supporter; and 3) They were all at least 50 years of age or older. This made a lot of sense at face value. I don’t know any LGBTQ people who support Trump. Older, straight men are more likely than young women to support Trump. Got it.
Given my penchant for quantitative data, I had to keep digging. After all, a sample size of 12 among my narrow and statistically-biased social network is hardly irrefutable.
Next, I deployed a survey to a representative sample of 2,600 U.S. adults who identified themselves as being in some kind of romantic relationship. Here’s what we found:
As you can see, nearly nine out of ten couples agree on Trump. That’s a pretty big ratio, indeed. But I was admittedly surprised – given my own marital situation – that 11 percent of people have found a way to peacefully coexist while disagreeing on Trump.
I did some deeper analysis to find out more.
A HOUSE DIVIDED
First of all, it didn’t matter whether people were in a married or unmarried relationship. I wondered if people who took the leap would be more likely to align with someone of similar political views. Nope. The percentages held true for married and unmarried couples alike.
Second, age didn’t matter. Millennials were 1 percent more likely than average to be in a divided relationship. GenXers were 1 percent more likely to be unified. This tells me that my 12-friend sample on Facebook was simply skewed older because, well, I’m skewed older (41, for the record).
Third, the numbers were virtually identical among Republicans and Democrats. What I did find is that people who identified with one of the two major parties were more likely to be in a unified relationship (92 percent agree, 8 percent disagree) than people who identified as “Independent” (83 percent agree, 17 percent disagree). That’s fairly intuitive.
Our analytics also told us that people who live in urban areas, particularly Blacks and Hispanics, were much more likely than average to be in an undivided relationship. People with the highest education levels were likewise more likely to agree with their significant other on Trump.
Meanwhile, people who live in the U.S. Northeast were more likely than other parts of the country to be in divided relationships.
One question I had after the informal poll of my Facebook friends was whether the 12-for-12 scenario of Male Trump Supporters versus Female Trump Detractors would play out in bigger numbers. Almost but not exactly.
2 percent of our female survey respondents acknowledged being in a relationship where they were the lone Trump supporter. In other words, 1 out of 50 adult women in America – right this very minute – is in a relationship with someone who doesn’t share their zeal for Donald Trump. Even that number seems high to me, reminding me yet again that I must live in some kind of bubble.
When I heard from my divided-house friends on Facebook, I asked them all the same question: “How do you do it?” The most common answer was some variation of “We just never talk about it.” Wait, huh? What do people have to talk about today if it’s not Donald Trump?
That silence does not necessarily denote a state of detente. One friend was quoted as saying “Do we talk about it? No. After all these years, we respect each other’s differences but it really bothers me.” Sounds to me like this one might lead to an argument or two down the road.
One person acknowledged that they do debate the issues – and Trump’s presidency – from time to time. Her husband seems to be softening his position in the face of marital opposition. “I have noticed he is no longer watching Fox News,” my one friend said.
And still another person told me of a friend who has joined a support group for women married to Trump supporters. For real.
But I keep thinking back to my own situation. As important as social and political issues are to my wife, I couldn’t imagine her being content with anything short of full-blown consensus on Trump. Maybe she’s an outlier.
My wife fits squarely in that 18 percent, I’m fairly certain. The “deal-breaker” crowd is much more likely to be female, highly-educated, aged 35 to 44, organic food buyers, and frequent volunteers. Yep, that’s her.
I would say that I fall in the 25 percent “somewhat” category, though I will admit it’s a nice-to-have. The “somewhat” folks are more likely to be male, 35-54 y/o, suburban-dwelling, active-Facebook-using parents. Yep, that’s me.
TRUMP AS CUPID
Here’s the big question: If only half of adults consider social and political synergy with their significant other to be all that important, how are 9 out of 10 couples so closely aligned on Trump? Do we just happen to stumble our way into relationships with like-minded people, even when it’s not a super-high priority? Perhaps.
I have another theory. My wife is a Democrat. I’m a Republican. We do have divergent views on a handful of things like fiscal policy, foreign affairs, and the 2nd Amendment. We seem to get by pretty well in spite of that.
Donald Trump takes things to a different, more visceral level. Spend 15 minutes on Facebook or watching a cable news roundtable and you’ll know that Trump, his policies, and his persona have struck a very raw nerve with people of every political persuasion.
Maybe a loving couple can disagree on immigration or health care or taxes and still sleep in the same bed. Disagree on Trump, however, and you have a problem on your hands – unless you can find a way to ignore it altogether. Only time will tell if that works over the long haul.
To summarize: Nine out of ten couples agree on Trump. Do nine out of ten couples agree on anything else?