US Elections 2016

Campaign divides American families

Ms Susan Phillips, of North Carolina, and her daughter Dale Koontz, of Virginia, have opposing political views. Ms Koontz supports Mrs Hillary Clinton while her mother supports Mr Donald Trump.
Ms Susan Phillips, of North Carolina, and her daughter Dale Koontz, of Virginia, have opposing political views. Ms Koontz supports Mrs Hillary Clinton while her mother supports Mr Donald Trump.PHOTO: COURTESY OF KOONTZ FAMILY

To keep the peace, dissenting relatives often avoid discussing politics

WASHINGTON • Hillary Clinton supporter Dale Koontz from Arlington, Virginia, knows without asking that certain family members disagree with her about the United States presidential election.

Her mother and grandmother were posting articles on Facebook supporting billionaire Donald Trump and excoriating Mrs Clinton. "I actually had one or two friends text me about it because they were concerned - 'Is your mom voting for Trump?'"

Welcome to Election 2016. Americans are backed into their political corners, rarely encountering people in the flesh who do not think like them, except, for many, in one conspicuous place: their families.

Ms Koontz, 23, a staff assistant at a public affairs firm, called her mother in North Carolina, and the discussion became heated. "She's like, 'Well, you're not going to vote for (Clinton), right?' - and it came out that I was... It's really difficult... I've always looked up to my mom and respected her opinions."

Some dissenting relatives moved away to college, landing in different political waters. Sometimes it is a case of generations divided. There also can be more political disagreement in white families, which are more apt to include Trump and Clinton supporters.

Yet bridge building even between family members is rare during what is arguably the most contentious presidential campaign in recent memory. Instead, dissenting relatives frequently avoid talking politics in person to keep the peace.

CONFLICTING VIEWPOINTS

They're going to be upset, and I'm not going to be able to act happy or excited around them. And the same if Trump wins, I'll be upset. So I think there may be some tension afterwards, but we'll all be glad that it's over with.

MS DALE KOONTZ, a Hillary Clinton supporter in Arlington, Virginia. Her mother and grandmother are fans of billionaire Donald Trump.

In such a divisive campaign, with its heavy themes of racial and ethnic bigotry and the candidates' perceived character flaws, a family member's political disagreement can easily begin to sound like a personal attack, said UCLA psychology professor Andrew Christensen.

For example, said Prof Christensen, "if the family member is supporting Trump and that implies that maybe they're not so smart, or that they're racist... then it becomes more fraught because they're not just explaining why they support Trump but defending themselves". "And it's the same for someone who supports Hillary, who might be seen as elitist or a victim of political correctness," he added.

Ms Koontz said she objects to Mr Trump's inflammatory rhetoric and his views on immigration and race. Her mother and grandmother think Mrs Clinton represents corrupt politics.

Social media makes relatives' dissenting views more apparent than they might have been in the past.

Ms Patricia Greene, 81, of Powdersville, South Carolina, plans to vote for Mr Trump but does not talk about it with her Clinton-supporting son. She said: "He's very vocal on Facebook... Sometimes I'll look at his page, and there will be 15 entries about the sorry, rotten Republicans and things like that."

For groups who feel targeted by Mr Trump's policies, that sense of bafflement can be particularly pronounced. Mexican-American Christian Garcia, 29, from San Diego, said he believes a Trump presidency would be a disaster, citing his rhetoric that he says "demonises Latinos". He spars three or four times a week with his brother Alfredo, 42, who sees Mr Trump's antipathy towards political correctness as a refreshing antidote to "the sissification of America".

So what happens in a few weeks, when one side of the family is celebrating and the other is reeling in horror? If Mrs Clinton wins, Ms Koontz plans to play it cool in front of her mother and grandmother. "They're going to be upset, and I'm not going to be able to act happy or excited around them. And the same if Trump wins, I'll be upset. So I think there may be some tension afterwards, but we'll all be glad that it's over with."

WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 23, 2016, with the headline 'Campaign divides American families'. Print Edition | Subscribe