At the Pacific Standard, Shanna Pearson-Merkowitz is freaked out, The Big Problem With Online Dating: It’s Making the Country More Politically Polarized. Her theory is that if you meet people the old fashioned way—blind drunk after last call—then you are more likely to hook up with someone with different political beliefs. This leads to more tolerance of said belief and soon we are all singing “Kumbaya My Lord” and looking forward to attending Burning Man.
There is something to what she claims. People who only talk to like minded people do tend to get a skewed notion of how much diversity of thought there is. But she is totally wrong to think that this is what causes political polarization. Couples who disagree about politics just tend not to discuss it. And couples who agree on politics don’t work themselves up into a froth about it, because, you know, they already agree. And given they are already biased in each other’s favor, they would know quite clearly that they aren’t a representative sample.
What does work people up into a reactionary political froth is the presence of political screamers on the radio and television. Part of this is simply because they claim to be objective—in the case of Fox News, explicitly so. But that isn’t the main thing. Relationships have many aspects. A couple may disagree about same sex marriage, but they know that their lives are primarily concerned with the day to day drudgery that is the modern world. A radio ranter talks only about politics and thus elevates it to a level of importance that is far higher.
In my own relationships, I’ve seen that whoever has the stronger political opinions does tend to pull the other person a bit in their direction. But it isn’t a strong effect. Politics is something that individuals bring into a relationship. It’s just like any other interest: religion, hiking, or tattoos. And I think it is better when a couple agrees on things. There are more than enough things to disagree about in a relationship. Even if agreeing about politics were bad for public political discourse, I doubt that would trump the added comity in the private relationship.
The problem with our politics is that we all hear the same kinds of things over and over again. And even still, what most people think is not represented in the mainstream press. The people of this country are actually very liberal when it comes to economic issues. But they hear none of that in the media. Just look at the Sunday morning political shows. The “middle” is represented with its pro-corporate, supposed free trade nonsense. The right is represented by the constant misinformation campaign that is reflected in George Will and Peggy Noonan. And the left is represented by… No one. As a society, we really do need more debate about public policy. But we don’t need it in the bedroom.
H/T: Max Ehrenfreund