Clinton or Trump: US families divided over election

Families across the country have been swept up in their own political torrents during this tumultuous election cycle.

Shawn Starry and his wife Hope Starry
Shawn Starry and his wife Hope say they will both vote for Donald Trump, while Shawn's daughter is a staunch supporter of Hillary Clinton [Al Jazeera]

Washington DC, United States  Kayla Helmers was surprised when she got to speak to Hillary Clinton at a political gathering in Mason City, Iowa, last December.

As the Democratic presidential candidate approached her, Helmers, a 23-year-old student and staunch Democrat, started recording a video.

“Mrs Clinton! My dad is a long-time Donald Trump supporter. Can you give him a message?”

After pausing to laugh, Clinton addressed Helmer’s father, Shawn Starry, directly on camera.

“Shawn – I hope you can see I don’t have horns, and I really do hope, as this election goes on, that you’ll listen to your daughter.”

The 2016 election cycle has been a tumult of contentious debate, incredible headlines and social media storms. It is, therefore, no surprise that many families across the country have been swept up in their own political torrents.

Helmers said she has always clashed with her father on politics.

“I have strong disagreements, always have, with my dad … It makes me roll my eyes that [he] is a supporter for Donald Trump.”

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Starry, 43, a protection officer in Rockford, Illinois, and a former Iowa State arm wrestling champion, told Al Jazeera that he is looking for a president who can lead, a man with character, like the late American actor John Wayne – famous for his depictions of cowboys and cavalrymen.

Trump makes sacrifices, according to Starry, who is not afraid to liken the Republican nominee to some lofty figures. “Like Moses, [Trump] has taken time to listen and take charge,” he said.

When it comes to his daughter’s choice for president, Starry said he is disappointed – particularly as he believes that Clinton has a bad political record. “To vote for someone, rejecting the evidence at hand, is foolish,” he says.

But, he added, he will not be trying to change Helmer’s opinion before the November 8 election.

“She is an adult. I will respect her choice simply because I love my daughter. It’s a choice she must make and a lesson to learn, as I did.”

‘Survival of the planet’

According to some experts, the negative and, at times, toxic tone of this election’s campaign cycle is filtering down to the family unit.

Avidan Milevsky, an associate professor of psychology at the Kutztown University of Pennsylvania, told Al Jazeera that the “vitriol in the political system” is creating “a level of tension that is clearly impacting family dynamics in destructive ways”.

He explained that the polarising nature of this campaign, in particular, is leading to an increase in political tension within families.

“The candidates this time around have really triggered aversive reactions … It’s become very personal in families. If you believe that your parent, brother or sister will be voting for a candidate who will usher in the end of the world, family harmony will take a back seat to the survival of the planet.”

Ian Menard will vote for Clinton and his parents for Trump [Al Jazeera]
Ian Menard will vote for Clinton and his parents for Trump [Al Jazeera]

Ian Menard, a 29-year-old student from Houston, Texas, has rather different political views than his family. Come November, he will be voting for Clinton, unlike his parents – who support Trump – and his brother, who plans to vote for the Libertarian presidential candidate, Gary Johnson.

“It does bother me that my parents are voting for Trump, in a way that them voting for [Mitt] Romney or [George W] Bush never did,” he told Al Jazeera. “I thought that having a gay son might make them rethink some of their support for the Republican Party, but it hasn’t. They very much detest Hillary.”

While he appreciates having a politically diverse family, Menard said it can be challenging.

“I would say that we don’t try to talk politics so much as try to avoid talking about them.”

According to Milevsky, families generally deal with conflict in one of three ways: ignoring the issues, fighting over them, or constructively communicating about them. The last option is clearly the most likely to be successful in overcoming tense political discourses.

Some positive outcomes

Amanda, who asked that her full name not be disclosed, said she knew that her politics differed from her husband’s early on in their relationship.

Amanda had helped out with several Democratic campaigns while her husband used to work in Republican politics. She told Al Jazeera that having differing political views has had some positive outcomes.

“When we first started dating, I don’t think I was able to articulate all of my beliefs the way I can now. Being married and having someone challenge my beliefs has helped me articulate why I believe what I believe.”

READ MORE: US voters ‘disgusted‘ with presidential race

In November, Amanda will be voting for Clinton, while her husband is still unsure – he is torn between Trump and Johnson.

“While I certainly wish he would [vote Clinton], it doesn’t bother me that he is voting differently from me,” said Amanda. “I think the only thing that bothers me is that … much of his opposition to Hillary is based on the sexist reporting that happens in the news. Hillary is pegged with the scandals of her husband in a way that a man would never be.”

Meanwhile, Grace Elena, who lives in the state of Washington, feels disheartened that her father is going to vote for Trump. While she is not an avid supporter of Clinton, she said that “when it comes down to it, I prefer her over Trump”.

Al Jazeera asked Elena if she planned to watch the upcoming presidential debate with her family, and she replied in a message on Twitter:

“Haha I definitely don’t think we will … that would be a mess.”


Follow Jessica Sarhan on Twitter: @JessicaSarhan

Source: Al Jazeera