Political conflict hits home

Tuesday, November 4, 2008 | 6:00 a.m. CST; updated 3:46 p.m. CST, Wednesday, November 5, 2008

COLUMBIA — The axiom “no politics at the dinner table” doesn’t necessarily apply in an election year.

“Politics are so emotional and so personal; you get so angry trying to explain why you feel that way," said Shelly Primovic, a mother from Overland Park, Kan., who was in Columbia on Saturday for a marching band competition. Conflict grows when it’s in the family, she said, because you expect family to agree and understand your views.

Red and blue. Conservative and liberal. Republican and Democrat. There is no doubt that politics is divisive, and it’s no different within families. Especially during the campaign season, the topic is unavoidable.

"It's hard to avoid talking about it when it's on the news 24/7," Primovic said.

Amber Moodie-Dyer, a doctoral student in social work at MU, volunteers for the Obama campaign. Her grandmother donated to the campaigns of both President Reagan and the first President Bush. Pictures of her grandparents with Reagan and the elder Bush hang in the family’s South Carolina home.

It's been a challenge to speak to her grandmother these days, Moodie-Dyer said, because the political and ideological differences are now blatant.

“If I wasn’t as involved or as passionate about it, it’d be easier to talk,” Moodie-Dyer said. Although she will not talk to her grandmother until after the election, she said, her grandmother supports her political involvement.

Generation and social history influence the difference in political opinion, Moodie-Dyer said. Her grandmother grew up during the 1950s and is affluent. Moodie-Dyer works part time at Barnes and Noble while she finishes her doctorate.  

Adam Jackson, an MU sophomore, also said personal history is at play. “They (his parents) tend to think more things are racially motivated than I do," Jackson said. "They grew up in the '60s."

Jackson, who identifies himself as a liberal, said he sometimes agrees with his parents — but only to a point. “They’d be the type to say that Bush caused 9/11,” Jackson said of his extremely liberal parents. 

“I think it’s a generational difference, but I definitely think there’s more to it than that,” Moodie-Dyer said. She has a great-aunt who is a contemporary of her grandmother but supports Obama.

Part of the conflict is a socioeconomic issue, and part is ideology.

Moodie-Dyer and her grandmother disagree about social issues such as immigration. Her grandmother often voices anti-immigration opinions in their conversations, Moodie-Dyer said, and gets angry when she encounters people who do not speak English. “I try to get her to understand that we need diversity,” Moodie-Dyer said.

MU senior Joel McMillin also cites ideology as the root of familial dispute. He and his father disagree on a variety of topics, including abortion, gay marriage and U.S. involvement in world affairs, he said. As far as abortion and gay marriage are concerned, McMillin said he supports both, while his dad "has that very Christian mentality toward what 'marriage' should be defined as." He describes his father as a "very conservative, evangelical Christian" and himself as very liberal.

"I typically believe that as long as what you're doing doesn't harm anyone else, then it shouldn't be anyone else's business as to what you're doing," McMillin said.

The political divide can be more subtle.

"My parents are not the type of people to tell you what to think," said Kenny Schmitz, an MU senior. They encourage Schmitz and his siblings to be independent more than anything, he said.

Schmitz’s parents have voted Republican in past elections. "The biggest influence they have on our political views is our subconscious upbringing," he said.

Schmitz went home last weekend and saw a campaign sign for Obama in his family's front yard. He doesn't know the reason for the political shift but guesses economic issues play a part. As of Sunday, Schmitz was undecided as to which candidate he would vote for but said his parents' recent switch would not affect his decision. 

"We will probably have three different votes come out of our family – Democratic, Republican and Libertarian," Schmitz said. 

For some families, political views are so polarized that avoiding talk about the issues is essential. Andrea Kinnison, an MU sophomore, said she won’t be telling her family whom she's voting for in this election.

“My mom is really Republican, and my dad is really Democrat, and I told them I wasn’t going to tell any of them whom I was voting for because they both feel strongly about their party,” she said.

McMillin said despite his ideological clash with his father, no permanent rifts remain.

"In no way do I avoid talking politics with anyone, let alone my dad," McMillin said. "While we continue to disagree and argue, any tension caused by those arguments doesn't really manifest itself in family settings."

Missourian reporters Jennifer Gordon, Katlin Chadwick, Morven McCulloch and Cory Stottlemyer contributed to this article.

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