Can people with different political beliefs be friends?

by: Chumani Chamberlain' 21 and Lily Bertles'22

At times like these, when political beliefs are polarized, is it even possible to be friends with someone who disagrees with your political beliefs? With the upcoming election, it is hard to completely avoid conversation around politics. There are some issues that people are willing to disagree on and others that can ruin friendships. 


Junior Amelia Duncan who is the co-leader of the Young Democrats club stated that “I think everyone’s opinions need to be valued but then it does come down to it, when I feel like this person’s political beliefs show that they don’t value me as a human being, then I’m definitely going to stay away.” She further elaborated that she doesn’t want to be friends with people who are “being homophobic, racist, and xenophobic... or any of the other ‘phobias.’” she continues saying, “I don’t even think [human rights] should be political.”


In a survey sent to the student body with 129 responses, students were asked “Is it hard for you to be friends with someone who has drastically different political views than you?” 29.5% answered “somewhat”, 26.4% stated “no”, 25.6% stated “not really”, while 17.1% of respondents answered “yes.” 


The following question asked students “If it is hard for you, why?” One student shared: “It’s because politics is a big part of my life and it’s hard to not be able to talk about that with friends without awkwardness or arguing. I thankfully haven’t been friends with anyone who had different moral beliefs but if that was the case I would stop being friends with them.” 


Another student stated how “Given these past 4 years and how common it is to talk about politics, I just find that it gets uncomfortable and I don't want to hide my views and beliefs in order to be friends with someone.”


Oftentimes friend groups are formed based on similar beliefs and interests. Senior Hadley Boston elaborated on why this might be the case, especially with politics: “it can be ideological and because people share the same beliefs.” She continued by stating how she personally does not pick her friends based on political beliefs and that “I find out later what somebody believes in, I try not to bring [politics] into my friend groups. Especially when I know the person does not believe the same thing I believe in.” Hadley emphasized that “you can talk about other subjects without bringing politics into everything, you don’t have to make [politics] someone’s personality trait.”


When asked if the students and their friends discussed politics 51.9% answered “sometimes,” while 21.7% answered “not really,” and 21.7% stated, “Yes, all the time.” Senior John Fonthom stated that his friend group has a range of different political beliefs, yet they don’t discuss politics very often. When the occasional political conversation arises, “there’s obviously some debate and some argument but I think at the end of the day, everyone is respectful of one another, and that’s probably the most important thing,” he stated. 


With politics comes conversations highlighting multiple issues and perspectives. Junior Lindsay Howard who is the other co-leader of the Young Democrats club stated how certain political issues would ruin a friendship. “If you don’t support the Black Lives Matter movement or racial equality, I’d kind of have to cut it off right there. If you blatantly disagreed with that, that’s kind of a big deal breaker. Women’s health care is also a big one that would put a strain on the relationship - if you didn’t support women’s rights and equality.” 


On the survey that was sent out to all Upper School students, they were asked to list some political issues/movements that are most important to them. Similar to what Lindsay said, two of the most common responses were the Black Lives Matter movement and the pro-choice movement. The students who stated that their political beliefs were more left-leaning (Democrat/leftist) were more likely to express their concerns about human rights issues and climate change. For example, one survey taker who claimed to be a Democrat/Liberal listed “BLM, pro-choice, pro LGBTQ rights” as issues that were most important to them. 


There were far fewer responses from conservatives/Republicans on issues that were most important to them. Those who did respond seemed to mainly care about the pro-life movement and gun rights. One Republican answered that “The idea of BLM is in the right place but other things that have become because of it makes the movement a joke, riots, and ACAB, saying all cops are bad, like... What?” 


Many of the students who proclaimed themselves as centrists/independent were very split on their views. For example, one independent stated that the BLM and the ALM are both important to them. 


Upper School Counselor Ms. Harrison stated how “in the past things were not as polarized as they are now...we have such divisiveness because people believe [the election] is not just about economics or international policy but about morality and ethics and much more personal characteristics. In light of that, it is very difficult to be close friends or in a relationship with someone who does not align with your values and I think that now it’s probably more likely than ever that people choose their friends based on those shared beliefs. I also think that human nature is that we tend to gravitate towards people that are more like us.”