Bipartisan friendships in an election year: our readers respond

We asked you whether politics play a role in your friendships. Guardian readers share their thoughts

A recent Pew study revealed that American values and basic beliefs are more polarized along partisan lines than at any point in the past 25 years. As part of our people’s panel, we asked you if bipartisan friendships or (relationships) can survive this increasingly divided American society and how this election is affecting your bipartisan relationships.

‘”Diversity” no longer means diversity of opinion’ – Kyle Johnson

I recently graduated college after serving in the military for approximately eight years. It may come as a shock to those who have never been in the military, but it was one of the few experiences I have had in America where individuals with widely differing opinions, backgrounds and experiences have managed to co-exist (if only out of necessity). We had people from cities and the country, ultra-religious conservatives and atheists, prudes and libertines … you name it, we had it, and regardless of our personal opinions, we absolutely had to work together. We may not have always agreed on politics or religion, but there was always a grudging respect and civility.

When I went to college, it was entirely different. Disagree with someone? Who cares, you can join a Facebook group and find thousands of others who share your views. You can find enclaves of people like you and never leave should you choose to do so. You can cherry-pick the news articles you want, (generally) live in neighborhoods or areas of the country you want, and never encounter a dissenting opinion. “Diversity” no longer means diversity of opinion, it just seems to be a buzz word.

‘They represent a wide array of political beliefs” – Shaun Jacobsen

Most of my family and friends from my hometown are conservative. My family is accepting of my homosexuality, however, and it’s never been an issue. The differences in my political beliefs, which are most closely labelled liberal, and theirs have led to several fights, mainly benign in the long run. The recent recall election in my state, Wisconsin, was a big issue between us. I am a public university student in Milwaukee and feel that Walker’s fiscal conservatism hurts students.

My friends represent a wide array of political beliefs, but this does not stop us from enjoying each other’s company. I find that not speaking about politics is the best way to avoid the discussion in the first place. Even though we know we have different political ideas, we enjoy being friends nonetheless. I have only lost a few acquaintances because of politics, but our relationship was not strong in the first place.

‘One of my best friends is very Republican’ – Cecillia Matthews

My husband & I are moderates but we live in the southern US, which is extremely fundamentalist and Republican. We lost one couple’s friendship, when George W Bush was in office, over whether I was being disrespectful in my criticism of the president. On the other hand, one of my best friends is also very Republican & Catholic, and we’ve just agreed not to discuss anything political – it works great for us, and otherwise we get along great!

My father (deceased) would have really let me have it if I’d expressed my political views; he was to the right of Attila the Hun, would have joined the Klan if they’d taken Catholics in his day. Discreet silence on my part was how we got along. Nine and a half years of education by nuns really laid the groundwork for my current beliefs and views. They emphasized tolerance, fairness and justice for everyone.

‘We learn from each other’ – James Taylor

I would consider myself more of a free agent. I don’t pull for either side because I think the middle path is usually the right one. Maybe that is why I can have a civil conversation with a Democrat or a Republican. I have friends on different sides of the political spectrum. We are able to debate in a way in which all sides are heard, and then we are still friends afterwards. We agree that our politics are not the same, but we enjoy the debate. We also learn from each other.

‘It’s been a stimulating exercise for both of us’ – Greg Staples

I am a liberal living in the reddest county in the state of Wisconsin. “Stand with Walker” signs festooned with miniature flags were literally everywhere until the recall election was over. My neighbor is a Limbaugh/Tea Party advocate. Despite this, civility remains. These are mostly good and decent people. The Tea Party guy next door is an excellent neighbor.

The anger and hatred is on the fringes.

My brother and I have had only one fight in our lives – over politics. I kicked him out of my house, but he knocked on the door five minutes later. My brother and I are engaged in a long-running series of email debates. He is a Milton Freidman libertarian who has been quite successful in business. I am a retired school teacher. We are trying to come to an agreement on the proper role of government. It’s been a stimulating exercise for both of us.

‘There isn’t any way to avoid politics’ – Michelle Cacho-Negrete

I believe that how we vote is a reflection of our moral values. Because the declared values of the Republican party, especially as voiced through the powerful Tea Party, are opposite to mine, I find it impossible to be friends with a Republican.

There really isn’t any way to avoid discussing politics when you are friends with somebody. While I have moderate as well as liberal Democratic friends, in the last number of years I’ve rarely encountered a Republican moderate enough to maintain a friendship with. This greatly saddens me. In this polarized pre-presidential election, I find it increasingly impossible.

‘We need a forum for constructive debate’ – Elena Louise Richmond

There aren’t many places where deep philosophical differences are talked about in reasonable ways between individuals. There’s an impersonal quality to commenting online. People say ugly things as though they aren’t even talking to other humans. The poor grammar, lack of punctuation (and complete sentences) gives the comments a thuggish aura, making constructive debate nearly impossible.

‘Agree to disagree and then talk about baseball’ – Charles Gates

There is often not a fundamental set of facts on which opposing sides can agree to use as a starting point, making discussion or debate impossible. I think it is largely a conflict between ultra-conservative sectarian and secular world views. The best response is to agree to disagree and then to disengage and talk about baseball.

Most of my family and friends are politically centrist. Even those who are devoutly religious understand that civil society is where people should seek common ground to solve a society’s problems. While they may bring their personal set of values to discussions, they accept the need for compromise. That allows for debate and for solutions. The staunch ideological sectarians too often come with values and interpretations they intend to impose on others. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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