Read Time: 8 minutes
Well, friends, we made it. We recovered from the sugar rush of Halloween, we voted, and now we are sitting on our couches with a hot beverage with the sun shining way too brightly for this time of the morning, our kiddos gleefully writing out their wish lists for upcoming gifts. We have made it to the season of buying presents and yard inflatables and, yes, seeing family.
For some people, this probably brings you no feelings of anxiety at all. To you, I am in awe of those family dynamics, but for many of us, the approaching holiday season brings feelings of dread. That might legitimately be from an aunt’s traditional and terrifying fruit cake or that, year after year, they refuse to believe that you still don’t eat meat… but I digress. The main reason that many of us steel our nerves before getting out of the car at that relative’s house is the inevitable and interminable conversation about politics. Yep, that face you just made? Exactly that.
According to Ballotpedia, as of October 2022, 38% of registered U.S. voters were affiliated with the Democratic party, 29% were for the Republican party, and 27% indicated they were Independent. As recent midterm election results would lead us to believe, those numbers live in a state of flux. What does that mean for your holiday? That even if Aunt Joan was a die-hard Trump fan, she might not still agree with the legacy he’s left. That maybe Uncle Dave was on the fence about everyone, but now he aligns more with Republican feelings about labor. It means that even though you might have verbally sparred with either or both of them last year, they might agree with you more this year!
In reality, you are going to face off with family members about their political beliefs. They might agree with you; they might fight against you. What’s a person to do if they can’t go back to the kids table or just opt out and stay home? Well, we’ve prepared some scenarios for you.
One. You are seated across from your cousin Ellie, and wow is she glaring at you above a steaming turkey. She just attacked the candidate that you had a sign for in your front yard as being lazy and stupid. You’re a little flabbergasted because she’s usually cool, but you are also feeling a little defensive, because your candidate is actually pretty grounded. You even went to one of their town halls and got to talk to them for a couple of minutes after. What do you do?
You dive in. You know your candidate, and you know why you voted for them specifically. You liked their ideas on passing legislation to make funding available to help protect low-lying and flood-prone housing developments from increasingly unpredictable weather, and you really like that they voted for tax increases for the much wealthier folks on the other side of town.
You relate these items to your cousin, and she seems to take a moment to think. She hadn’t realized that you’d done your homework and had specific reasons why this candidate was the one that you wanted. Give her a moment and ask her why she thought your candidate was lazy and stupid. Chances are the only homework she did was watching political ads. Don’t be afraid to dive in. Ask her some specifics and work through her questions, trying to find some common ground. She is the cool cousin, after all. Let’s keep it that way.
Two. You’ve watched your Uncle Bill suck down four glasses of wine. You’re impressed, a little, because Bill’s always struck you as more of a beer guy. But now he’s on a roll that seemingly cannot be stopped: the January 6th “insurrection” was caused by Antifa. The government lied about election results all over the country. We can’t trust anyone in office. You have heard this speech before, just not at this volume.
But, friend, you have a literal trump card: create a distraction. He loves his local football team and they are doing pretty well this year, because you checked before you left your house in anticipation of this moment. You slip your phone out of your pocket and look through your notes about his team so that you can shower him with specifics about players and games. You only need about five of your talking points before he’s transferred his rage onto an opposing team and you can sit back and enjoy some sweet potato casserole.
Three. You are sitting down to that odd holiday dinner that’s between calendar holidays because everyone’s too busy on the actual days to get together when your aunt stops mid-rant on her husband to have your mom back her up on a political point of order. Your momma freezes mid-roll buttering. She had quietly switched political parties before midterm elections and you are the only one who knows. Ironically, the candidate that she switched for – the same one you voted for – was the one who won. Certain members of the rest of your family are having some feelings about that.
You jump into action, because breaking with her family politically was pretty brave. Ask your aunt why she likes that candidate. Ask for specifics. Be nice, and keep your poker face on. You want her to do all of the talking while you ask a few questions to get her non-shouty brain working. You want to try to understand why she’s thinking what she’s thinking; understanding a person’s why plays a critical role in finding out why she’s backing a particular party or candidate. Her circumstances and experiences are much different than yours, so take a few minutes to understand them. After she winds down, go for the closer: did she bring her amazing apple pie this year?!
These are of course three scenarios out of many, but they all add to your family holiday toolkit.
1. Do your research. People rarely want to think and research for themselves, and social media has given us these lovely, consumable sound bites and quotes that make not thinking so much easier. You probably know which news outlets your family uses, so why not look them up on our Media Bias Chart beforehand to help you discuss their reliability?
2. Be prepared. You know that your uncle is going to launch into a ragey speech about politics, but you can use the chart to de-escalate. Has he looked at any other sources or does he choose all of his news from the hyperpartisan right or left? Would he be willing to read something more balanced? Make a game out of it – you both get to pick each other’s news sources for the next three weeks and then come back together. And then if all else fails, derail him with sports.
3. Ask fair and non-judgemental questions. I know that this is probably the hardest one, but you can do it. Asking a family member what they like about another human isn’t terrible, and it will give you time to think. So get going!
Stop over at our website and consult our Media Bias Chart. Plus, you can always dazzle them with our chart at that inevitable holiday dinner. At the very least, it might give them something different to talk about.
Sara Webb is a cybersecurity consultant and former high school librarian from Philadelphia, PA. She holds an M.S. in Informatics and an M. Ed in School Library and Information Technology, and has been a media literacy educator for over a decade. Sara started with Ad Fontes Media in July 2020 as a Media Analyst, and she currently continues in that role and as in-house Media Literacy Specialist. When not engrossed in media literacy projects, Sara can be found at the barn with her ex-racehorse Homer, or training her corgis for dog agility competitions.