Tell us your story about talking politics with family, colleagues

Amy Dickinson, advice columnist and panelist on Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me, will join us to talk about how to handle political differences with family, friends and colleagues this election season.

Have you ever had a battle over politics in your family? And how do you behave when you are surrounded by people who don’t agree with your politics?

–Stephanie Curtis, social media host

  • Mark

    This might be a sidenote, but what about having a political Facebook discussion when you are job searching. I am leery of having anything too political on my newsfeed in case a potential employer somehow finds it. Should job searchers self-censor their online political discussions?

  • Stephanie

    Amy Dickinson distracts her family – with whom she does not agree politically – with conversation about the media.

  • Ruth

    As a conservative living in the city, I feel like I can never discuss politics at all – as if the neighbors I’ve spent time developing relationships with will shun me if they ever learn of my true beliefs.

  • James

    I declare myself to be independent, then talk about facts of the issue and discuss how parties depict solutions. If facts are questioned, I suggest that we go together to the computer and look up verified facts about the issue together. If misinformation is being given by one party or another, I use Politico to aid in research of the statements. I try not to use inflammatory language or to make it personal. However, it difficult not to take it personal when people won’t acknowledge facts, but rather repeat rhetoric.

  • Nick

    Since most people get their political and religious beliefs from family it is especially important for dissenting opinions to argue for their point of view. Otherwise, family members may never be exposed to contrary beliefs.

  • Julie

    We gathered at my dad’s place after my mom’s funeral yesterday, and a cousin asked “who are you voting for?” People literally started to scatter. I agree with Amy on avoiding the direct question. I know the Obama/Romney chat will be all bumper stickers and hurt feelings. So, as a teacher I brought up their positions on class size so we could talk about a real issue. That was an interesting conversation that we had just enough agreement to be civil, but enough nuance to be interesting. I go to specific wonky slightly boring issues to avoid flying plates.

  • I work for the Federal government in DC so politicking at work is a big no no. So we have to keep light. I find when discussing political things it’s better to avoid any kind of substantive debate and just focus on jabs that sting but not inform. For example, a pop corn food truck outside our building conducting a poll of their Obama flavor (Carmel and Cheddar) and the Romney flavor (plain popcorn no flavor added). Needless to say Obama is killing it.

  • Allison

    My family, especially my father, sends me (conservative) political e-mails all the time. As a liberal — and as a journalist — I cringe. So, rather than be reactive, I think about what questions it raises in my mind and then pose these questions in response: What is the source of this information? Where is this allegation documented? Has it been fact checked? Which “side” of the argument is served by broadcasting this e-mail and does that cast doubt on its veracity?

    I get to state my position without being oppositional. If nothing else, it lets me feel good about how I handled it!

    I rarely get any feedback. But my fantasy is that at least one person is thinking, “Oh, that’s a good point. Maybe this e-mail isn’t true.”

  • Katie

    My mother gave me a great piece of advice when it gets to the point that you don’t want to engage with them (ie, they’re beating a dead horse)

    *nod* and say “you may be right”.

  • Sandra

    I will not discuss politics with far-right in-laws. What’s the point? Is it all about personal greed and money or is it about caring for each other? Our values differ completely.

    I could never, ever be married to a person whose values are so different than mine. How do other couples manage that? Yikes!

  • Mark H.

    In 2008, we found out that our neighors were very conservative and we suppported Obama. One of our kids was over playing with their kids, and their kid told them that his parents were supporting McCain because Obama was going to give their money to the poor. A week before the election I saw one the parents, and I just said I would be glad when the election was over.

  • Cindy Olson

    My brother in law once told me I was an idiot for voting Democratic….. (I think that gives me the right to call him an obnoxious Republican…)

    But, after years of listening to his right winged ranting, I’m getting revenge because his daughters and wife are “voting with their uteruses, and voting for their gay friends rights to marry”, This year for the first time they are not voting Republican…

  • Joe in Minneapolis

    Here’s a few critical parts I’ve picked up regarding civil political discourse with people of differing views:

    1) Explicitly demonstrate your appreciation for the others’ well being regardless of their views. You really do want everyone to be at peace and prosperous in this country (and in the world at large). Emphasize this as the very onset, so they recognize that you are not against them so much as against their differing views.

    2) Avoid attacks on the person themself (ad hominem – i.e. “you’re stupid”) or attacks at what they say in itself (ad argumentum ipsum – i.e. “that’s just stupid”). Instread, draw out & engage the points raised – the premises – not the conclusion. People can appreciate disagreements much more on specific points as opposed to general policy packages. Try to get down to the specifics, and challenge the others to parse out their generalities.

    3) Accept that you really don’t have all the answers yourself. Don’t get frustrated if you can’t get your premises for your views across. Your frustration undermines the virtue of your views in the eyes of the others.

    4) Accept that your party & its leaders don’t have all the answers either. Remember that nobody’s perfect.

  • Mark


    Kids are a hard part of the equation! How do you explain politics to a kid without filling them with your own political bias? Or maybe I should just relish being able to brainwash my kid.

  • I was on a large boat party and in a casual conversation with people I just met, the topic turned political. When I express my liberal opinion, a conservative woman started to cross examine me about my beliefs. I decided to move to another party of the boat and talk to people who were more civil while disagreeing.

  • Julia

    It’s hard to stay polite when the issues at stake are so important to our lives, people who are hoping for health care, gay rights, and education can’t help but get passionate. It’s not just politics it’s people’s lives. So yes, it’s important to try and create some understanding between the two sides but at times it can be very difficult.

  • Ken

    I don’t vote and I usually get the typical replies… “You are unAmerican”, “Then you have no right to an opinion”, “You have no right to complain”.

    I don’t vote because the candidates live in a different world than most middle class Americans and I don’t believe in either candidate… I believe I am not a hypocrite. I also don’t vote because I believe that my individual vote doesn’t count due to the electoral college process.

    Do you think most people really understand the election process?

    How do you recommend I respond to these replies?

  • Lindsay

    It really depends on who I’m talking to. If I’m talking with my mom’s side of the family, I take a VERY neutral stance. My grandma is very conservative, and she bases everything off of her religion. When anyone disagrees with her, she pulls out religious books and preaches. I’m the exact opposite, but I do talk about the other side around her and always remind her that not everyone is the same religion as her. I hate feeling like I have to be careful about what I say, but I don’t completely throw away my beliefs just to avoid a conflict.

    I agree with Sandra. I could never be in a relationship with someone who doesn’t agree with me on most issues. I can certainly be friends with people who don’t agree with me, though.

  • Ray

    It is a very difficult issue to have to deal with .The strong and deep polarization within our country on social, legal, education, religious and judicial issues has created the need to confront these issues with our neighbors, friends and families. I think that this is a political tactic/strategy to rally support by the right wing republicans, evangelical, tea party, and militia bases.

    The political discourse sets a poor example for the citizens to be lead by example. It is an unfortunate state ours and many societies around the world have morphed into.

  • When I want to talk politics in a civilized way I attend a public philosophy group, Socrates Cafe.

    It’s open to anyone and we thrive on good solid conversation with acknowledging people do not need to agree. I recommend it for anyone aching for dialogue!

  • C. David Kearsley

    With all due respect to Ms. Dickinson, politics is, at the end of the day, personal. I regard those who are diametrically opposed to me politically (I am a Liberal African-American veteran) as espousing views and policies that, if enacted, would operate at cross-purposes to my interests.

    And Kerri, “not nasty”? Really? Perhaps this is true compared with the discourse of the late 19th or early 20th century, but the racial charging (read: “birthers” and their quiet sympathizers) of both this campaign and the last (2008) seriously challenges your comment. This kind of willful ignorance goes back to the conversation I had with your news director.

  • Maureen

    My father has steadily grown more socially and religiously paranoid over the years and believes our entire economy is going to collapse within a few years (going so far as to store food and take money out of the bank). Our discourse can be so difficult since we both have loving concern for the other person’s well being. I find that by having these conversations with my father, it helps me understand more about his fears, but it gets me worried for him too. My mother cannot stand our talk and tries to change the subject constantly. I believe I am doing the right thing about not skirting the issues with him. But, whew! It’s tough.

  • Felicia

    I am in an even unique place – an immigrant, black and support Mitt Romney. It is just me and another brother and the rest of my family and majority of the community support Obama – I think blindly.

    However, I’m outspoken and while I do not out out in very public places, my family clearly knows where I stand and I’ve had these discussions several times with various ones. A friend of my mom even send a message pleading with me to vote for Obama.

    My older brother and I will be voting for different sides this election.

  • Ann

    I’ve always looked to MPR for civil discourse on politics. The debates at the State Fair were the opposite of that, with a lot of heat, and rude and hostile crowds. Was that intentional? Can we get to Gary Eichten’s model? Ann

  • Brad Koehn

    I try to separate conversations about politics from conversations about ideology. Usually emotions run the highest (and most incorrect) when these lines are crossed.

    Most people can talk about non-political ideology (“this is how I think the country should work, and that’s why I support issue X”) just fine. Likewise, most people can step back and dispassionately discuss the state of the campaigns (“I cannot believe candidate X is beating candidate Y in the polls”). I think this is because people are not emotionally attached to these types of abstractions. They’re not personal, they’re conceptual.

    But the politicians want people to be emotionally attached so that they don’t change their vote. So they try to introduce emotional issues and combine them with emotional attacks (“my opponent is treasonous/heartless for supporting/opposing X”) because it suits their purposes of cementing your vote. Very seldom will they discuss politics or ideology dispassionately because it demonstrably weakens their political position by costing them more votes than they gain.

    It’s sad that to look for reasoned debate of the issues we need to look away from the very candidates from whom we’re supposed to select.

  • Brandon Boat

    The Theater of Public Policy worked with the Minnesota Council of Churches to create an informative and fun video that demonstrates how to have civil dialogues with combative topics.