When Ellie Leonhardt, a self-identified liberal, started dating a conservative man while studying abroad, she expected their biggest problem to be cultural differences. Now, looking back, she believes the reason their relationship ended wasn’t cultural – it was political.
“I learned a lot of things. Issues I associated with Republicans are not limited to the party – it’s related to the way people think and how they understand every issue around the world,” said Leonhardt, a senior political science major. “It’s not impossible (to date someone with opposing political views), but it is one of those things that you have to agree to disagree. But it’s hard to when it comes to moral issues.”
Political polarization in the U.S. has more than doubled since 1994, according to the Pew Research Center. Alongside the widening ideological gap between liberals and conservatives, people tend to look for partners who share their political identities and level of political engagement, according to a study conducted at Yale.
Leonhardt’s ex-boyfriend ended their relationship because of “lifestyle” differences, which she believes their lifestyles were caused by the different ways they viewed the world. While she had left-leaning beliefs and no religious affiliation, he was a Muslim and a conservative. Their disagreements were too much for him, and his friends also shared his political beliefs, Leonhardt said.
“It’s easier for people with the same political views to make (dating) work, but for those with different beliefs, it’s not impossible,” said Sam Mazo, a freshman business administration major.
Despite his conservative and libertarian beliefs, Mazo said he would be open to dating a liberal because politics are not the “centerpiece” of his life. For him, religious and moral compatibility take the forefront.
“I’d have more of a disagreement with a person who dislikes animals than with someone who dislikes (President Donald) Trump,” Mazo said.
For freshman biology major Reed Posey, having different political views than his ex-girlfriend was a challenge, but not a deal breaker. Though she was socially liberal, her fiscally and environmentally conservative opinions bothered him.
“It was frustrating because she didn’t seem to care the way I did, but it wasn’t enough to call it off,” Posey said. “I think if you love someone … if their heart is in the right place, you can look past it.”
For others, separating politics and morality when it comes to dating isn’t so simple. Grace Bell, a sophomore English major, dated someone with different political views and believes it added strain to their relationship. Though their differing opinions didn’t end their relationship, Bell said that there are now certain political opinions she deems necessary in a romantic partner. She believes that some issues, such as reproductive rights and the Black Lives Matter movement, are more important than others.
“I don’t really identify with either political party … (but politics) affects my everyday life and I think it affects many people’s everyday lives. So I don’t think it’s really something you can put in a box and go, ‘Oh well, we have different opinions on this, so let’s not talk about it,’” Bell said.
While Leonhardt wants a partner who shares her political views, she wouldn’t date someone to change opinions, she said.
“I do know people who had started dating someone and their views have not only shifted, but the depth of their views have grown. I don’t think I have that power, but I’m sure there’s also people out there,” Leonhardt said.
Kali Hoffman contributed to this report.