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Politics ruining your appetite? Study shows people leave Thanksgiving meal early
Dreading the heaping helping of partisan political bickering likely to be served up at your family’s Thanksgiving dinner?
If so, here’s one thing to be thankful for: A contentious feast probably won’t last as long.
A recently completed study on the effects of partisanship on family ties showed that Thanksgiving dinner 2016 ended, on average, 20 to 30 minutes earlier than the previous year among mixed-party gatherings.
“Heightened political partisanship is cutting Thanksgiving dinner short,” said Ryne Rohla, co-author of the study and a doctoral degree candidate in economics at Washington State University.
Last November, weeks after what may have been the most divisive presidential election in recent history, America sat down for its first Thanksgiving dinner in the uncharted political era of President Donald Trump.
The charged political environment carved off about 27 million hours of normal Thanksgiving conversation due to early exits and no-shows, the study found. Republicans were most likely to bolt first, Rohla said, leaving on average 45 minutes early.
“The entire effect is almost completely due to Republicans leaving early,” Rohla said.
The data: The study used precinct-level voting results from the presidential election, data on political advertising and smartphone location tracking data to test the relationship between partisan discord and time spent at Thanksgiving dinner. The core methodology calculated how long a guest from a precinct favoring one party stayed at a dinner in an area won by the opposing party.
In media markets where political advertising was heaviest, the effect was more than doubled, meaning pumpkin pies were ostensibly wolfed down or taken to go in Ohio, Iowa, Florida and other swing states.
In Orlando, Florida, for example, Thanksgiving dinners were cut short by about 1 hour, 15 minutes. Orlando saw the most political TV ads leading up to the election of any market in the U.S., according to Kantar Media data used in the study.
“It shows how much political polarization is impacting everyday life … it’s something you can’t escape from,” Rohla said.
Recently presented at Northwestern and Stanford universities, the study has been submitted for publication in a scientific journal. Rohla said researchers plan to monitor this Thanksgiving as well, but declined to predict whether the trend will continue.
After a year of marches, travel bans, tweets and 24/7 debate, the table could be set for another rancorous Thanksgiving.
Growing divide: The divide between Republicans and Democrats, which reached record levels during the Obama administration, has grown even wider during Trump’s first year in office, according to Pew Research.
A Pew survey released last month found an average 36-percentage-point difference between Democrats and Republicans on questions across 10 hot-button issues including welfare, racial discrimination and immigration. For example, 71 percent of Democrats say the government should do more to help the needy, while just 24 percent of Republicans concur.
The overall gap between left and right was only 15 percentage points when Pew began conducting its political values survey in 1994.
“On nearly every political value that we track we’ve seen the partisan gap continue to widen over time,” said Jocelyn Kiley, associate director of research for Pew.
Another topic likely to start a food fight: Trump’s proposed border wall with Mexico. In the most recent survey, twice as many Democrats (84 percent) as Republicans (42 percent) say immigrants strengthen the country.
Exacerbating the ideological differences is a growing antipathy, with nearly half of Democrats and Republicans expressing a “very unfavorable” view of the opposing party, more than double what it was in 1994, according to Pew. First-year approval ratings rank Trump as the most polarizing president in modern American history, according to Pew. On average, 88 percent of Republicans approved of Trump’s job performance as of June, compared with just 8 percent of Democrats.
“That gap between Democratic and Republican approval is the biggest that we’ve seen going back to Eisenhower,” Kiley said.
Tip line: At the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line, an annual Naperville, Illinois, holiday call center set up to handle all kinds of culinary crises, 11-year veteran Janice Stahl has helped harried hosts with everything from where the thigh bone is connected to how to find a turkey buried overnight in the snow.
While the occasional family squabble enters into the conversation, she has yet to field a call about political issues.
“It’s not uncommon for family members to get on a call with you together, to decipher who’s right and who’s wrong, but never anything politically heated,” said Stahl, 52, of La Grange. “You hope people put that aside on Thanksgiving.”
A home economist, food stylist and graduate of Butterball University – the call center’s three-year turkey preparation training program — Stahl is nonetheless prepared to enter the political fray with practical advice.
If Thanksgiving dinner threatens to devolve into a partisan brawl and early exits appear imminent, Stahl suggests speeding up the food service. A couple of shortcuts include carving up the bird before the standard 20- to 30-minute post-oven rest time, and trotting out desserts during the main course.
Another solution, of course, is to ban all political discourse.
Lisa Wenderoth and her daughter, who were picking up a turkey and other supplies Monday at Whole Foods’ store in Chicago’s Streeterville neighborhood, said politics would not be on the menu at their Thanksgiving dinner this year.
“There’s a political divide, but we don’t bring it up during Thanksgiving dinner,” Wenderoth said. “It’s a family event. If it creeps in, we’ll change the subject.”
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