Trump-Clinton Campaigns Creates Upheaval in Social Relations  


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Young woman is in the fair about her future

A few days ago, I posted an article on this website titled “Post-Trump Stress Disorder – A New Form of Suffering” highlighting the widespread mental and physical illnesses across the United States in the aftermath of the Trump election victory. In addition, across the world millions of people responded with confusion and bewilderment at the sharp dissonance between perceived American values and Mr. Trump’s values, behavior and character.

Ken Burns in his graduation speech at Stanford University described Mr. Trump as a “terrifying Orwellian statesman,” who “insults veteransthreatens a free pressmocks the handicappeddenigrates womenimmigrants and Muslims.”  Hundreds of journalists have written advice articles about how to deal with conversations during the holidays among close friends and family members without ruining relationships and destroying family and community solidarity. Many advocated simply avoiding political conversations.

Now, finally a national survey by Wall Street Journal and NBC offers data on the nature of these social wounds in the wake of the presidential election. Janet Hook reported results in the Wall Street Journal on December 21, 2016 “2016 Campaign Takes Personal Toll of Voters, Poll Shows.”

In the survey a third of American adults reported one or more of these two non-sociable experiences during the campaign: (1) heated political arguments with friends or family or (2) avoided talk of politics with family members. In addition, many said they had blocked someone on social media because of the election.

Clinton supporters avoided talking politics with family more so than Trump supporters, with 42% versus 24% claiming such negative restraint. Even more interesting was the finding that women were more likely than men to withdraw from politics-based social relations. 60% of women compared to 40% of men self-reported at least two of four types of strife: harassment, arguments, withdrawing from family discussions, or blocking others on social media.

That both women and Clinton supporters experienced greater conflict on political matters among family and friends could be due to the characteristics of the presidential candidates or from the way in which the voting public responded to the election controversies. Candidate Trump irritated women more than men by his remarks that demeaned women and expressed misogyny or prejudice toward women. He also proved skillful at intimidating and bullying a wide variety of people, especially women and vulnerable groups like the disabled or minorities.

During the last phase of the campaign, quite a few women shifted from support for Clinton to Trump. This change placed conservative women in less conflict with friends and family. Conservative women might also have found it more difficult to explain to others why they were supporting a non-conservative candidate.

But conservative men tended to find Trump’s machismo attractive and may have avoided conflict with friends and family by aggressively expressing their own opinions. Sometimes intimidation suppresses conflict on sensitive conversation topics.

Many supporters of Mrs. Clinton either could not stomach Donald Trump’s disparagement of women or they liked the idea of having a woman for president. Either way, conservative women would expect support of Clinton to be controversial among friends and family.

The high levels of conflict among close friends and family, especially among women supporters of Mrs. Clinton, may have contributed to changes in alliances toward the end of the campaign. In the last weeks or days of the campaign many women switched from saying they would vote for Clinton to voting for Trump. Last minute vote switching almost certainly was more common among those whose friends and family applied social pressure to switch.

Feeling Excited about a Candidate

The same poll also asked each person surveyed if this was the first time he or she was excited about a candidate. 51% of Trump voters said they were excited but only 20% of Clinton voters reported feeling excited. Trump supporters seemed to be excited about his persona and his approach to politics. Whereas Clinton supporters were generally less excited about their candidate even if quite a few were excited about the possibility of a first woman president in the USA. Asking how excited one is about a candidate seems like it should be included in most future pre-election polls because it seems to be a good indicator of voters potentially at risk for switching support from one candidate to another.


The Importance of Harmonious Social Relations and Solidarity

Social scientists view the relationships between valued friends and family members as central to the development of children and young adults, and research confirms that close social relationships have a large, positive effect on personal and community wellbeing. The fact that such a large share of the 2016 voters had acted to curtail election-related conflict during the campaign suggests an excessive degree of polarization in the US election.

High degrees of political polarization undermine community or societal solidarity among potential voters and leaders. Communities of people cannot govern themselves effectively in times of deep divide and low harmony and solidarity.

The high degree of political polarization of the public means that fewer voters will feel comfort and trust toward any one candidate. Furthermore, public polarization creates greater party polarization, which means less productivity of the congress or parliament as well as the government as a whole.


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