February 5, 2020

A sore subject: Almost half of Americans have stopped talking politics with someone

An image of a young couple arguing at home
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At a time when the country’s polarizing politics and public discourse are dividing many Americans, close to half of all U.S. adults acknowledge that they have stopped discussing political and election news with someone, according to a new analysis of data from Pew Research Center’s Election News Pathways project.

Nearly half of U.S. adults have stopped talking with someone about political newsIn total, 45% of the nation’s adults say they have stopped talking about political and election news with someone as a result of something they said, either in person or online. A slim majority of American adults (54%) say they have not cut off political conversation with someone because of something they said. The findings are based on a survey of 12,043 U.S. adults who are members of the Center’s American Trends Panel conducted from Oct. 29 to Nov. 11, 2019.

In examining which types of people are more or less likely to stop talking to someone about political news, four characteristics stand out: party and ideology, race and ethnicity, the medium relied on most for political news, and engagement with political news.

Six-in-ten liberal Democrats (60%) say they have stopped talking politics with someone because of something they said. That number is substantially larger than the segment next likeliest to drop the subject with someone – conservative Republicans, at 45%.

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In another area of difference, half of white Americans have stopped talking politics with someone, compared with roughly one-third of black and Hispanic adults. And those who say they rely most on local TV for their political and election news are far less likely to have stopped talking with someone about politics than any other group, such as those who mostly get this news through news websites or cable TV.

The data also indicates that the level of engagement with political news ties closely to avoiding discussions about political news with someone. The more closely people follow election news, the more likely they are to say they have stopped talking with someone about politics – including 58% of those who say they follow political and election news “very closely.”

Democrats, particularly liberal ones, are more likely to stop talking politics with someone

More than half of liberal Democrats have stopped talking about political news with someoneExamined by party, Democrats and independents who lean Democratic are more likely to have stopped conversing with someone about politics because of something they said than Republicans and independents who lean Republican: 50% vs. 41%, respectively.

But an even more striking contrast emerges from ideological groups within each party. A high-water mark of 60% of liberal Democrats say they have stopped talking politics with someone, compared with 41% of Democrats who are moderate or conservative.

On the Republican side, only 36% of moderate and liberal members of the party say they have stopped talking to someone. Conservative Republicans also lag well behind the liberal Democrats, with 45% saying they have dropped someone from their conversations about political news.

These findings are in line with earlier research the Center conducted in 2014. That report found that those identified as “consistent liberals” were more likely than “consistent conservatives” to see political opinions on Facebook that were not in line with their own views. But they were also more likely than consistent conservatives, by a margin of 44% to 31%, to block or defriend someone because they disagreed with something that person posted about politics.

U.S. adults more engaged with political news are more likely to disengage with someone

U.S. adults more engaged with political news are more likely to have stopped talking with someone about political newsHow closely one follows news about politics and the election also comes into play. The closer people follow political and election news, the more likely they are to say they have stopped talking to someone about it. Indeed, 58% of those who say they follow political news “very closely” have stopped discussing politics with another person. In addition, 48% of those who follow this news “somewhat closely” have also decided to cut the conversation with someone.

At each declining level of engagement, the share drops by about 10 percentage points. It falls to 38% for those following political news not too closely and to 27% for adults who follow political news not at all closely.

And while the ideological ends of each party – liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans (both including leaners) – are more likely to follow political and election news closely, differences by level of news interest still hold even when accounting for self-reported party and ideology.

White Americans are more likely to cut off political conversation

White Americans are more likely than black and Hispanic adults to have stopped talking about political news with someoneRace and ethnicity are also associated with the decision to stop talking to someone about political news. A full 50% of white adults say they have made that decision, which is considerably higher than the percentage of black (37%) and Hispanic (34%) adults who say they have stopped talking to someone about political news.

The differences in this behavior aren’t nearly as prominent when it comes to gender, where 47% of women say they have stopped talking with someone, compared with 43% of men. And age isn’t a particularly decisive factor either, although those in the oldest cohort (those ages 65 and older) are more likely to have dropped the subject with someone than members of the youngest cohort (those ages 18 to 29) – by a 49% to 41% margin.  

Those who prefer local TV news stand apart from others in political discussion habits

Those who rely on local TV are less likely to have stopped talking with someone about political newsAnother way that respondents’ political conversation habits were examined was by looking at their preferred, or “most common,” pathways for receiving political and election news. Those platforms include print, radio, local TV, national TV, cable TV, news websites or apps, and social media.

Americans who mostly rely on local TV are, by a solid margin, the least likely to say they have stopped talking about political news with someone – at 34%. Between 44% and 51% of all other groups say they have stopped talking with someone.

Even though those who most commonly get political news from local TV are one of the groups least engaged with political and election news overall, this pattern still holds when accounting for their levels of engagement compared to other groups.

All in all then, those who are at the ideological poles of the parties and those who are most engaged with political news tend to have a greater inclination to cut certain people out of their political discussions because of something they’ve said, while the less engaged to begin with are less driven to restrict these conversations.

Interested in exploring the data further, seeing more data like this or conducting your own analysis? Visit our interactive data tool and access the dataset.

See the survey questions and methodology for this analysis.

Acknowledgments: The Election News Pathways project was made possible by The Pew Charitable Trusts. Pew Research Center is a subsidiary of The Pew Charitable Trusts, its primary funder. This initiative is a collaborative effort based on the input and analysis of a number of individuals and experts at Pew Research Center.