Fun and depolarizing political conversation topics for Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and other holidays

A horrible image choice for representing a holiday dinner.
  • Political beliefs can be complex and hard to pin down, so it’s hard to use simple words to describe people’s politics. For the purposes of this piece, liberal is used to describe people who mostly or always vote for Democrats, and conservative is used to describe people who mostly or always vote for Republicans.
  • Some of my questions will likely anger you, or cause you to think I’m making stupid “both sides” arguments. But if we’re going to attempt bridge-building conversations, it is necessary that both sides are willing to be uncomfortable and consider some ideas they instinctually find distasteful.
  • I wouldn’t attempt such conversations with extremely polarized people. Some people fully believe almost all of the people on “the other side” are monsters who can’t be reasoned with at all. If they believe that, we’re probably best off not trying to converse with them and focusing our conversational efforts on people who are still capable of having conversations (most people still are, in my opinion).

About our us-versus-them divides

People in both political groups tend to blame the other group for being more divisive or more hateful. Do you see some people on your political side who make things worse by speaking in bad and divisive us-versus-them ways? What are some examples of that that you dislike? If you are able to see that, does that point to seeing how both sides have played a role in amplifying divides (even if you see one side as worse)?

Police violence

When it comes to America’s high rates of excessive, unnecessary force used by cops (in comparison to European countries, for example), what role do you think our country’s huge number of guns play in that? Do you think it’s possible that our huge number of guns and large amount of gun crime may play a role in amplifying police fears and making them more likely to use force?

Election legitimacy and January 6th Capitol riot

What percentage of Hillary Clinton voters do you think believed that Trump’s 2016 win was illegitimate? (Answer: about one third, and also 57% of those aged 18–30 believed that.) Why do you think so many people believed that?

Immigration

Did you know that Bernie Sanders has long expressed a belief that we needed stricter immigration laws? Sanders has stated that he believes that large influxes of workers who work for cheap will drive down American wages. He called open-borders-type policies a “Koch brothers proposal” in how it helps the rich. Do you think it would make sense for liberals to argue that Sanders is bigoted or racist for holding such views?

Racism, critical race theory, and American racial history

When conservatives and liberals argue over the “critical race theory in schools” topic, both sides often have a distorted view of what the other side’s position and intentions are. For example, conservatives often think liberals want to teach that America is evil and corrupt, or that whiteness is bad, but this isn’t what the large majority of liberals want. And liberals often think that conservatives want to remove all discussion of America’s racial and racist history, but that isn’t what the large majority of conservatives want.

Gun control

Currently about 22% of Republicans support more strict gun control. Let’s imagine that we had a large upswing in fundamentalist Islamic terrorism in the United States, and a good amount of that came in the form of mass shootings with guns purchased in the United States. Do you think that would result in more conservatives being supportive of stricter gun control? Why or why not?

Covid and vaccines

Considering there was some skepticism amongst anti-Trump people regarding taking the vaccine when Trump was in office (here are some examples): if Trump had won in 2020, do you think we would have seen a significant number of liberals express skepticism about taking the vaccine?

Abortion

Did you know that up until the 1970s, abortion wasn’t a big political issue and it wasn’t obvious which political party would become more pro-life or more pro-choice. For example: Catholics were the most pro-life religion, and Catholics were primarily Democrat voters. Via private correspondence, abortion issue researcher Dan Williams said that the GOP might have become the more pro-choice party if things had gone a little bit differently: this idea is supported by the fact that “in nearly every other industrialized democracy in the Western world, the leading conservative party in a country is pro-choice on libertarian grounds.” The idea would also seem to be supported by the fact that roughly 3 out of 10 people from each party don’t agree with their party’s stance on abortion.

Socialism versus small government

The United States has a lot of programs that are technically “socialist,” like social security, public education, and unemployment insurance. Even the military could be viewed as a socialist program in that it’s a program paid for by everyone’s taxes. On a scale of 1–10, where do you place the United States on the socialism scale? Where would you like that number to be?

If you enjoyed this

If you liked this piece, please check out my psychology podcast and my piece on the ways in which social media may be dividing us.

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Zachary Elwood

Zachary Elwood

Have psych podcast “People Who Read People.” My research into online deception featured in NYT, WaPo, more. Wrote books on poker tells (translated 8 languages).