Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton aren't worth losing friends over
There's a reason your vote is private, American electorate, and it's not because of Facebook.
It's because in the late 1900s, Americans gradually adopted the Australian system of secret ballots, much to the chagrin of the party bosses and political machines that used to be able to bribe or threaten their way to victory. In 2012, journalist Sasha Issenberg, who dived deep into the election data factory in his book The Victory Lab, suggested America give up the secret ballot to increase voter turnout. He did not mean that everyone could see whom you cast your ballot for, only if you've voted, but thanks to Facebook, you probably have a good sense of how everyone you know is going to vote, anyway.
According to the Census Bureau, there are about 142.2 million registered voters in the United States. If we take the RealClearPolitics average of presidential polls, 47 percent of voters are currently planning to vote for Hillary Clinton and 41 percent for Donald Trump. That means that even if you personally don't know anybody who would dream of pulling the lever for Trump, 58.3 million Americans say they will. Nobody you know is "With Her"? Well, 66.8 million of your fellow voters are.
Of course, the chances are that you have at least one friend or (even more likely) relative who disagrees with you. Publicly. On social media. And it's not just Clinton versus Trump. Bernie Sanders supporters owned Facebook for much of his race against Clinton, and Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio had their partisans who were not all that excited about Trump. Many still aren't. Maybe you've thought: Jill Stein? Really?
According to some surveys, there's also a decent chance you've unfriended somebody (or at least muted their posts) because of their political views this election year. Or at least you've thought of it. This is sheer folly.
It is not nonsense that you disagree with people you know, or even disagree strongly. "I love my uncle, we're family, but this is way bigger than politics or candidates to me," Democratic consultant Brent Blackaby told Politico, explaining why he unfriended a conservative uncle, Phillip Mullard. "This is about a fundamental disagreement about worldviews, how we treat and respect people, how we honor the political process."
In fact, disagreements seem inevitable. Between Jan. 1 and Aug. 1, 100 million U.S. Facebook users wrote, responded to, or shared four billion posts about the election, with a quarter of those just from July. "In a political environment as heated as it is right now, with voters as polarized as they are on the two political parties and the two presidential candidates, it's not surprising that we hear voters talk about unfriending others," Republican pollster Neil Newhouse tells Politico.
Scott Talan, an American University communication teacher who studies social media and politics, shares with The Associated Press some suggestions for keeping the peace on Facebook this election. They range from the obvious ("Try to use civilized tones and decorum in your posts" and "Take a breath or two and think it through before commenting on a friend's post or unfriending someone") to the dubiously helpful ("Instead of sharp opinion statements, pose questions such as 'how can we trust her?' or 'is he stable enough to be president?'").
Talan's best advice, though, is this: "Remember that this will all be over in November, and your friendships could and should outlast the next presidential term."
This election is important, and it will determine the direction of the United States, if not the world. Whoever you plan to support, you should vote in November for the candidates you think will do the best job at their jobs, be it town dog catcher or commander-in-chief. If a pollster calls, by all means share your views. But this election, at least, maybe don't broadcast your preferences.
Wouldn't you rather not know that Aunt Linda is crazy about Gary Johnson, or that cousin Chad is going all-in on the Greens this year? Maybe that family reunion picnic this fall will be more pleasant if you don't discuss the election — or know that your nephew is a hard-core Trump fanboy, or your Uncle Wilton thinks Clinton is the cat's pajamas. Presumably your relationships, be it by kin or choice, are built on more than just who you vote for.
Might the next president drastically affect your life? Sure. But the chances are pretty small. The odds are much greater that you'll see Uncle Wilton at Thanksgiving in five years, or run into Julie at your class reunion, than that Trump delivers the world into nuclear armageddon or Clinton attacks China to distract from some scandal in her administration.
It's going to be an ugly campaign. Talan, the social media and politics researcher, has one more survival tip, and at first glance it's creatively cryptic. On second glance, it isn't bad advice: "Try not to be like the candidates." Your friendships and family ties are worth more than that.