Does Online Dating Make People More Politically Polarized?

Serious businesswoman wearing glasses holding a newspaper in bright office

That’s the thesis from Pacific Standard magazine, anyway.

“People who use Internet dating sites are choosing who to date based on criteria that are highly correlated with political preferences, according to a study published in the most recent edition of the academic journal Political Behavior. There may be long-term consequences for political polarization: not only are such couples more likely to move to the ideological extremes because they lack access to contradictory opinions, they also are likely to produce children who hold ideologically extreme positions. The end result is a more polarized America where more and more people cannot understand how others could possibly think differently from themselves.”

Interesting, but I think they’re mixing up cause and effect. Here’s their line of thinking:

Fact: One third of all marriages now begin online. Of those, 45 percent met through an online dating service and another 20 percent met through a social networking website.

I would agree that the Internet has caused polarization.

Fact: The political culture is more polarized than ever before.

Conclusion: Online dating causes this polarization.

I would agree that the Internet has caused polarization. I just don’t think we’ve seen the effects of online dating on the next generation of children yet. But the Internet itself is highly culpable in the the prevalence of the confirmation bias on political opinion. Instead of watching the NBC Nightly News and drawing your own conclusions from unbiased reporting, you read the blogger who speaks most to you. I do, too. I’m a big Andrew Sullivan reader – he’s a married, gay, Catholic, British, pro-Obama conservative. But I think he’s a realist who relies mostly on facts to draw his conclusions – plus, he slightly challenges my Jewish atheist liberal bent. Point is, if I were sifting thru profiles on Match, I would probably pass up my own wife, who comes from a conservative military family. Even though she’s moderate and largely apolitical, I would likely be looking for other liberals online. The article concurs about the effects of sorting through profiles:

“Such mechanisms enable individuals to find potential mates far outside their immediate social circles and learn far more about their preferences and attitudes than is possible when people meet through face-to-face social interaction. The Internet also allows people to be pickier about who qualifies as “acceptable” before they ever have the chance to meet. As a result, we now can limit our exposure to contradictory political information in advance–information that political scientists have determined to be critical in making us tolerant citizens.”

Overall, I don’t believe that online dating causes polarization; if anything, it allows people the ability to stay in their own bubbles, to their own detriment.

Overall, I don’t believe that online dating causes polarization; if anything, it allows people the ability to stay in their own bubbles, to their own detriment. This is why I’m passionate about teaching you to date online in my Finding the One Online program. Once you realize that there are a lot of great people you’re not considering because of their label (height, weight, age, income, education, distance, religion, political beliefs), you increase your dating pool twofold and double your chances of falling in love.

Have you ever dated across the political aisle, and how much tension did it cause? I would suspect that if one person feels strongly and the other is largely indifferent, it can work. But a passionate conservative and a passionate liberal are probably not a match made in heaven – all Carville/Matalin references notwithstanding.

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  1. 1

    I also don’t think it’s online dating that is causing this problem. The political parties themselves have become more polarized: witness the government shutdown. I read the article and then read through the comments. I agree with the person who wrote, “There are more serious threats to democracy in the US: Gerrymandering of boundaries, the fact that most votes don’t count, the corruption and dishonesty of politicians (who spend most of their time fund-raising), and, of course, the ever more pervasive security state.”
    EMK, since you are liberal, I’d guess that it helps that your wife is moderate and apolitical, rather than a member of the Tea Party. Extreme differences in values cause greater stress. But that’s different from giving a chance to someone whose physical appearance, educational level, or income differs from what you might have thought you preferred.

  2. 2
    Karl R

    The article contains a lot of speculation, but very little relevant data.  
    Evan said: (original post)
    “I think they’re mixing up cause and effect.”
    They’re actually one step worse than that. They didn’t even provide evidence which indicates that people who met through the internet were more likely to share political beliefs than people who met through more traditional means.
    The article said:
    “People who use Internet dating sites are choosing who to date based on criteria that are highly correlated with political preferences,”
    So do people who meet through traditional means.
    I dated three or four women who attended my church. Religious beliefs are highly correlated with political preferences. I dated women who lived in the same city as me (another correlation to political preferences). I mostly dated women of my race (another correlation to political preferences). I dated women of my social class (another correlation to political preferences).
    I can’t rule out a cause-effect relationship based on the article, but the “evidence” barely rises above the level of speculation.

  3. 3

    Evan, it’s like you’ve written your question just for me.   I met my long-term boyfriend on Match.   I’m liberal, and he’s very conservative.   When I started using Match, my rule was that I would only date liberal or moderate men with at least an interest following politics, because I desired someone who shares my world view, but also because I had dated men in the past who were apathetic about politics, which didn’t work well because I’m very passionate about it and found the apathy meant we didn’t have much to talk about.   
    I was very happily Match-ing away, and going on dates with liberal men.   When the man who is now my boyfriend sent me a message, I ignored it . . . for several weeks.   Eventually, having found that the last liberal guy I’d been on a date with didn’t hold my interest, I returned my boyfriend’s message.   A week or two, and several exchanged emails later, we met, and a month later we were both off the market.
    I’m glad we crossed the aisle together, but it’s not always easy.   If we do disagree, it’s usually about politics.   All-in-all, though, it’s not contentious.   We agree on my “deal-breaker” issue – He had to be pro-marriage equality – and we respectfully agree to disagree on a lot of other stuff.   Most of our coupled friends met offline, and are also in bipartisan relationships.   All of their relationships seem strong and peaceful, and I don’t think mine is any different simply because we met online.   Of course, we live in DC, where almost everyone is passionately one way or the other, and where bipartisan relationships are common.
    Would I prefer a boyfriend who is liberal?   Sure, on paper.   But in real-life, my boyfriend and I are a great match.   For me, learning to love this relationship has been about letting go of the “checklist” and love a great man for who he is, who loves me for who I am, even when he disagrees with me.   Evan, I think you’d like us as a couple.

  4. 4

    I’ve dated almost exclusively men of opposite ideology to me and it does tend to cause problems.   Heck, it can even cause issues with my friends.   Not so much bc I find myself having to bite my tongue time and time and time again when they make ludicrous statements and establish all sorts of straw-men arguments (unlike you, Evan, I do NOT enjoy debating with those I care about).   I can do that and have long ago accepted that they would never deign to keep quite if I make equally stupid comments, from the other end of the political spectrum.
    However, there are issues like personal responsibility and entitlement that are reflected in political views in fact run deep in one’s character.   Here are some real-life examples I have faced with friends and lovers of different political stripes:     If you earn over $200k/ year but your friend earns more, do you think she OUGHT to pay for things for you, because people with higher incomes always owe those with less?   If you have earn little and your partner has a robust salary, do you deserve to quit work, stay home and write your novel full-time (even if your partner objects) while your partner pays for everything?   If your partner is part of the 1% (in Canada: earns over $191,000 pre-taxes), do you vociferously argue in favour of an additional sur-tax on the 1%, even though your partner is already carrying you, financially?   These are not political disagreements but they certainly reflect disparate worldviews which are reflected in the participants’ political affiliations.
    Evan, your wife is a Catholic and a conservative, but she seems much more accommodating than you in her political and religious views.   She has allowed your children to be raised in your religion and you regularly cut conservatives in your blog.   I’m glad this combination works for the two of you and I suspect that in any couple who disagree on such fundamentals, at least one will have to not feel strongly about his/her beliefs.    

  5. 5

    I’m with Evan. The whole country is becoming more polarized. People’s views are becoming extreme to the point where, being in a relationship with someone who has opposing political views is really not viable. Heck, I had a hard time with some of my ex’s friends that were liberal, i.e. supposedly on my side of the aisle. I am however much more moderate than they. I remember one uncomfortable dinner, with me checking my phone every two minutes just so I could keep my mouth shut, while his friend’s wife waxed poetic for an hour straight about how this country needs a revolution. My (then) bf was very hurt and offended that I did not participate in the conversation. But the reason why I didn’t participate was that I didn’t trust myself not to say what I really thought about her idea, once I’d have started talking. And these are the people that I agree with on most issues most of the time. Can you imagine a similar dinner, but with hardcore Tea Party members, instead of the hardcore liberals? We would’ve gotten into a food fight!
    I dated across the aisle once. My old friend is leaning somewhat libertarian. I am somewhat left of center. He is quite outspoken and passionate about what he believes in. I’m pretty passionate about what I believe in, as well. We were together for a few months, during which we had a mutual agreement never to mention politics. It was election season of 2010, which made it kind of hard not to talk about the elephant in the room. With some effort, we managed. I don’t think we would’ve lasted long in this mode, though. Even now three years later, I’m back to being close friends with this guy, but I have his Facebook posts hidden from my feed, because his political status updates just tend to drive me up the wall.
    I’m starting to lean towards thinking that, ideally, I’d like someone moderate and/or apolitical. For a more passionate, outspoken person, he’d have to be on my side of the aisle. I would probably not date someone with completely opposing views, because, even in the unlikely chance that he doesn’t drive me to distraction, his like-minded friends will.

  6. 6

    I believe our world is becoming more polarized due to the internet.   First, because of the advent of social media (facebook, twitter, instagram, etc.), many people have come to believe that everything they do is important enough to report on…no matter how insignificant.
    Second, the anonymity of the internet gives people the idea that they can say whatever they want without consequences.   So they do, and in the process make assumptions about people they have never met based on a particular comment in a particular context that they don’t agree with, and then making disparaging and rude remarks to others, something they most likely would never do in person.
    So many people think their viewpoint is the only one that matters, and they will shout down any other viewpoints in rude and cruel ways, without trying to understand the other viewpoint and that there is an actual multi-faceted person behind that viewpoint that has feelings also.
    This same behavior manifests itself in many ways on dating sites also.   I have found it generally manifests itself in a more sexually way, like when a guy sends me a sexually explicit e-mail or photo.
    Whether someone rules me out for age, height, hair color, eye color, religion, or political leanings…I have no idea but they probably do.   I’m sure it happens it real life also.   At least in real life though they have to actually meet and get to know me before they realize what man-hating, ballrbusting bitch I am and rule me out, i.e., they have the whole picture. 😉 They don’t don’t do it based on one particular characteristic or based on a particular statement made by me in a particular context on a particular forum, i.e., a snapshot.   :-/

  7. 7

    As someone who has worked in politics professionally and have been analyzing voter data since 2000 I can tell you internet dating has zero to do with this. One of the biggest indicators of party registration is the registration of a spouse, the other is the registration of your parents. Marriage indicator is slightly stronger as sometimes kids rebel but rarely do you see two people partner of opposite political persuasions.
    Now as far as dating someone of differing political persuasions: most of the men I dated throughout my twenties were other liberal men involved in politics, way before online dating happened to me, campaigns did. I had one long term relationship with someone who was more conservative than I am and it did create some turmoil. Differing world views (and that’s what politics comes down) can be exceptionally hard to navigate. I stated before that the gay is a sin question on OKCupid is a big indicator to me, so if carrying a gun. Ultimately I live in a large northeastern city so almost every man I meet is liberal like I am so I doubt I will really have to worry much about it. Young, educated, urban people tend to think pretty similar these days so there isn’t too much conflict.

  8. 8

    I don’t think that’s the case. I think the problem is in the American voting system.  
    In Australia it is compulsory to vote. While there is a strong argument against complusary voting, what it results in is a lot of people voting who couldn’t care less about the government. These type of people tend to vote in moderates. While we do swing left and right a little, we have never had really extreme parties in control.  
    Personally though, as a daughter of a Holocaust refugee, I wouldn’t stand to date someone who didn’t have a strong respect for human rights.  

  9. 9

    This issue of “polarized politics in dating” really only applies to women in my volumes of experience (hundreds of dates the last while). Look at some of these examples in these responses – really, not date a guy who felt marriage was for one man + one woman? That is ludicrous – no guy worth his salt should put up with irrelevant judgements and liberal “tolerance,” even if he was pro gay marriage. The issue isn’t society being more polarized, or the anonymity of the Internet, or w/e, it’s simply that people feel entitled and tribal – entitled to 1%ers’ wealth, entitled to a college education, entitled to a “living” wage, entitled to health care, entitled to a job, entitled to broadcast to the world the minutia of their lives, etc., etc. This entitlement trickles down to being entitled to demand that others toe the minutia of some tribal (and largely irrelevant, at least to a relationship or individual) world view. The sad reality is those who feel they deserve the most often end up the least, and in the process utterly miserable. I could write (and should) write a book on my dating experiences and this particular topic…

  10. 10

    Wow, there is a lot of political angst in these responses. Though not necessarily part of the thread, You People need to stop letting politics ruin your relationships and your lives. Turn off your MSNBC, remove that Huffpost bookmark, and cancel that subscription to the NYT. Our Nobel Peace Prize-winning liberal president is a war monger and the conservative House approves $1T+ deficit budgets. The country is heading one way and one way only, and there is no stopping it. You political folks will be much happier if you’d turn this angst toward MYOB.

  11. 11

    @ Sal9000
    “You People need to stop letting politics ruin your relationships and your lives”
    These words would carry more weight if your previous post wasn’t essentially a political diatribe.
    Another thing about what you call politics is that it trickles into our daily lives. It’s not easy to listen to your date complain about how people shouldn’t feel entitled to health care, if your parent has just been denied insurance due to a pre-existing condition, or denied coverage for their cancer treatment because they have exceeded a lifetime limit. Likewise it is not easy to listen to your date talk about how marriage should be 1 man   + 1 woman, if your brother is unsuccessfully trying to marry his partner. The list goes on and on.
    “This entitlement trickles down to being entitled to demand that others toe the minutia of some tribal (and largely irrelevant, at least to a relationship or individual) world view.”
    Now where did you get that from? No one said that everyone has to have the exact same world view. That would be pretty totalitarian now wouldn’t it? What people are saying that certain world view differences make it close to impossible for the two people to date, be in a relationship, or marry each other. Only way you’d have a problem with this is if you felt entitled to a relationship or marriage with any woman you want, regardless of whether her political views are the same or opposite of yours. Is that the case?
    ” Turn off your MSNBC, remove that Huffpost bookmark, and cancel that subscription to the NYT.”
    But we can still keep that Fox News channel, right?

  12. 12

    Not sure which is funnier:
    1. The idea that NBC News is unbiased
    2. The idea of a gay Catholic conservative pro-Obama writer
    But I like the point that we should look beyond labels and try to have rational discussion on the topics we are passionate about.   Sometimes I find more agreement than expected with those who call themselves liberal and those who are religious – neither of which describes me.   What matters is if they use facts and logic or do they just use emotion and name calling.   If someone agrees with me but have put no thought into their opinion and are just parroting whatever opinion source, that is less attractive than a dissenting view with some reason.   I see a whole lot more conformity than polarity in the world and it’s incredibly boring.

  13. 13

    I have no idea what my bf of 3 years’ political views are…Don’t care one way or the other. I know that we are both pro-human rights. I know that we are neither pro-marriage (personally) and we don’t care who wants to tie themselves emotionally, legally to whom. I know we are pro-family, and pro-choice but anti-abortion (personally).
    I guess we are both live and let live and we vote for whomever seems right at the time. I think this is pretty typical of most Canadians I know, though I do know some politically passionate people. Mostly they are just pro-human rights and anti-agenda.  
    I’m out of my element on the topic of politics.  

  14. 14

    @ Goldie #11
    It is irrational to assign blame in these scenarios – your date is not responsible for the blockage of gay marriage or the ACA.
    Yes, it is totalitarian, that’s my point, which is further proven via your followup assertion that, “certain world view differences make it close to impossible for the two people to date, be in a relationship, or marry each other.” Implicitly declaring this a universality is most certainly a form of entitlement. Lots of dissimilar such folks carry on in relationships.
    Well, I live in an ultra liberal town, and the examples of sociopolitical hegemony are vastly lopsided in that direction, so they were front and center.

  15. 15

    Re “it’s just views and he’s not in control of that”
    I’m going to take this to an extreme. I grew up in the Soviet Union, where a great deal of Anti-Semitism existed. I am 3/4 Jewish, but I don’t look the part. As a result, I’ve had several dates, or pick-up attempts, where the guy would start on the subject of Jewish conspiracy, how they all need to be put in their place, etc. While I realize that these men were saying it in theory, and were not personally responsible for these theories getting started, as soon as these words exited a guy’s mouth, that was it. Date would be over and I’d never see him again. My reasoning being, yes he is entitled to his views, and to expressing them freely, but that doesn’t mean I have to make his views a part of my life by continuing to see this guy. There are plenty of other men in the world that do not share these views. So I didn’t really see the need for me to sit around and listen to a man tell me how my family and I had to be put in our place or what have you.  
    As someone told me years ago, “do not let another person’s insanity become your reality”.  
    “Implicitly declaring this a universality is most certainly a form of entitlement. Lots of dissimilar such folks carry on in  relationships.”
    Okay, point taken. How about this. No woman owes you a date or a relationship. Everyone has the right to decline an offer of a relationship with you for any reason. If it makes them uncomfortable that you express certain political views in your conversations with them, or if some of these views insult them because of their personal situation, they have every right to stop seeing you for that reason. if you are a dog person and they are a cat person, they have every right to stop seeing you for that reason too. To insist that any woman be willing to date you anytime the urge strikes you, without asking her opinion, seems pretty unrealistic to me.
    Additionally, it sounds to me like you don’t especially enjoy dating in an ultra-liberal town. Does this mean that your date’s political views do matter to you too?

  16. 16

    Polarization is caused by individuals, not dating sites. Like Evan says, it’s up to the individual if they want to polarize themselves or others. It is ironic, that when I changed my profile to be less specific and finally after many revisions put out the message, that went something like this: “you’ve seen my pictures, you’ve got an idea of how I like to spend my time, my interests and leanings, and if you like what you see so far, contact me so we can meet in person to get to know each other better”. (I was done with the games of never ending late night emails, no-commitment/just fun & sex guys, dishonest, etc.) The first guy to contact me after I posted that was my now fiance. I blew him off at first because of his religious/political categorization of himself, but I asked him straight out in first email what that meant to him. He liked that because it fit with the type of woman he was looking for and he was able to clarify and it turns out it was just a label and although outwardly it looks like we are on opposite ends of the spectrum, we are more similar in values than dissimilar.  

  17. 17
    Peter 61

    My experience says that agreement on childbearing comes ahead of politics. So does valuing religion. My ex and I met.Due to environmental activism when it was new and not yet respectable.   It hard very little to do with life.   We lived Light Green but it was no big deal.
    However, observing from outside, it seems that class war finally reached the USA. Europe has boring uniformity in politics these days. But maybe there is still uniformity about Dr Spock?   Should he be discussed on a date?

  18. 18

    What if, just what if, it is not a bad thing for the world in the long run, that humans for some years gets more polarixed. Maybe its more important, that more of us open our hearts to each other by finding love. And then the question about polarizing will solve itself some day. Sometimes us humans wants to complicate things. Maybe dating can give some polarising -effect, but datingsites are not the whole world. I think the best thing, we can do, is to follow our hearts and move on lovingly, trusting the future has a lot of good things in store for all of us.
    With love and laughter

  19. 19

    About two weeks ago I received a great email from a guy on Match. I checked him out. He had a well written profile – sounded interesting, fun, and smart. He was attractive and I responded. I followed EMK’s 2/2/2 approach and after a few days we moved to our first phone call. I can’t really remember how the name of the current Republican Presidential nominee came up, but it did. I want to point out, that I live in Canada, so I’m nothing more than an observer of US politics. When the guy told me he was a supporter (again, Canadian) I very politely told him that I was not a fan. My Match profile shows me as “middle of the road” politically. He asked why not (at this point he’s calm) and I simply said that the things I had observed him say to and about others was too extreme for me and did not mesh with my values – and that’s when the guy went off on me. He told me how stupid I was to be sucked in by the “biased liberal media,” that I was probably some ignorant, condescending lefty – and that’s when I hung up the phone. He sent a follow-up message pointing out that my ending the call was further evidence of my “low intelligence.” I hid my Match profile right after the call and that’s how it’s staying for now.

    I don’t think dating sites have anything to do with polarization either. I’m not sure what the cause is, but I sure don’t like what I see and, most recently, experienced. I felt bullied for not having the same views as some guy I’ve never even met – was he trolling Match for “middle of the road” he could yell at and insult?

    Internet trolls have driven all kinds of smart, interesting people running from a variety of social media platforms. I sincerely hope online dating sites aren’t the next target.

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