If you think politics makes Thanksgiving dinner unbearable, you’re correct
There was no shortage of guides and explainers to save Thanksgiving dinner from bitter partisan rancor following President Donald Trump’s win over Hillary Clinton last November.
But data about Thanksgiving 2016 shows that preparation did not save politically divided families from wanting to get away from one another. They spent about 20-30 minutes less with one another than in 2015, a new analysis of smartphone and voter data found.
Families closer to either of the two major political parties decided to stay away from their familial foes in different ways.
Democratic voters were 5% less likely to travel for dinner in 2016 than in 2015. Republican voters, on the other hand, were just as likely to take trips.
Once Thanksgiving got started, Republicans who traveled bailed earlier on average. Travelers from Republican areas to Democratic ones shortened their visits by almost 45 minutes on average, the analysis found.
Notably, the data does not dive into whether Republicans did not want to stay or whether they felt unwanted. Democrats were not more likely to leave earlier, on average (that is, if they made the trip, since they were less likely to travel).
The average Thanksgiving dinner rings in at about four hours, the data found.
This year, for what it’s worth, could turn out the same way, at least if some politicians have their way. On Sunday, Sen. Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, tweeted a link to a tax distribution table showing the Republican tax plan hurts the poor and helps the rich, with the advice: “Bring this to Thanksgiving dinner.”
The Thanksgiving dinner paper, which is forthcoming in the journal Science, is co-authored by M. Keith Chen and Ryne Rohla, a professor at UCLA and graduate student at Washington State University, respectively. The analysis was computed from location data gathered on over 10 million Americans’ smartphones and a dataset of election results from 172,000 precincts. This level of granularity gives a window into voters in which small behavioral differences can be analyzed.
The authors also found some interesting effects in areas saturated by political advertising. Swing voters, it seems, were particularly uninterested in spending time together.
“Thanksgiving dinners are further shortened by around 1.5 minutes for every thousand political advertisements aired in the traveler’s home media market,” the authors said. “In swing states such as Florida, media markets saw over 25,000 ads over the course of the campaign, implying a 1.2 hours shorter Thanksgiving for vote-mismatched families.”
There are the usual research-data caveats to the study’s data: The cell phone data is drawn from a subset of people out of the total population, and only an estimated 77% of Americans own cell phones to start with. With their sample and methodology, Clinton would have received only 50.3% of the vote. That’s slightly below her actual 51.1% share.
Still, the data is representative enough for its assumptions about voters to be accurate within 1% in 33 states, the authors said. Controls for travel distance and demographics were also made, the authors said. They said that as they added more data to their analysis, the average dinner duration became shorter, suggesting the average dinner between politically divided families might have been shortened even more than they found.
Polling supports the notion that a political Thanksgiving is the worst Thanksgiving. Political conversations at Thanksgiving, while something of an uncomfortable tradition, are not what Americans look forward to. Last year, 53% of Americans said they dread the thought of talking politics at Thanksgiving, according to a CNN/ORC poll.
Politics is also not a great fit for this particular holiday by definition. Most Americans are not all that thankful for their leadership. Just 5% said they were most thankful for a political outcome or political leader last year, according to the same CNN/ORC poll. On the contrary, more — 13% — were thankful for the country as a whole or its rights and freedoms.
What Americans are really thankful for is family. Sixty-four percent put it at the top of the list of things they are thankful for.