Political Differences May Shorten Thanksgiving Visits

Closeup shot of a turkey being served during a feast at a dining tableThe 2016 presidential election was, by most accounts, one of the most contentious in America’s history. The American Psychological Association (APA) published a survey one month before the election. The 2016 APA survey found 52% of Americans had “somewhat” or “very” significant stress about the upcoming election.

New research in the journal Science suggests political anxiety is affecting family relationships. The study looked at the length of Thanksgiving visits following the 2016 election. People visiting family across the political divide cut their visits short by an average of 30-50 minutes.

Are Political Differences Hurting Family Relationships?

The study estimated the length of Thanksgiving family visits based on anonymized cell phone data. The study included more than 10 million users. The data revealed users’ locations in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, as well as Thanksgiving afternoon. Researchers assumed visits on Thanksgiving afternoon were for Thanksgiving dinner.

Next, researchers looked at voting data in users’ home voting districts. Users were weighted based on the number of Democrats and Republicans in their precincts.

Many users visited precincts with voting records different from those of their home precinct. These people often had shorter visits. In 2015, the average Thanksgiving visit was 4.2 hours. In 2016, people visiting “opposing” districts stayed 30-50 minutes less than this average.

  • People traveling from Republican to Democratic precincts shortened their visits by 50-70 minutes.
  • People traveling from Democratic to Republican precincts shortened their visits by 20-40 minutes.

The data is merely suggestive, since researchers did not know the voting histories of individual cell phone users. Yet on average, people are more likely to vote the way their district voted. The large sample size points to a potential trend.

Researchers also looked at the effects of political advertising. Visits were even shorter when people traveled from areas that had a lot of political advertising. The data suggest visits were three times shorter when people had been exposed to heavy propaganda. This trend had not been present in 2015.

When Thanksgiving visits are shorter, families talk less. This provides fewer opportunities to talk through and across political differences. The study estimates a nationwide loss of 34 million minutes of cross-partisan talk, thanks to the decrease in family Thanksgiving time.

If your relationship with your family has been damaged by political anxiety, therapy can help. A compassionate therapist can help people resolve their differences by offering fair and impartial guidance.


  1. Chen, M. K., & Rohla, R. (2018). The effect of partisanship and political advertising on close family ties. Science, 360(6392), 1020-1024. Retrieved from http://science.sciencemag.org/content/360/6392/1020
  2. Researchers document another cost of 2016 election: Shorter Thanksgiving visits. (2018, May 31). EurekAlert. Retrieved from https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2018-05/wsu-rda052918.php

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