Politics increasingly divides Americans. In a free, diverse, and dynamic society like ours, strong philosophical disagreements should be expected. They can be a sign of healthy pluralism–but only if individuals with major ideological differences are able to maintain a shared cultural identity.
Fortunately, the winter holidays—and the traditions and rituals which characterize them—can be used to help reinforce that cultural identity and strengthen those connections, according to recent survey data.
The Harris Poll, in collaboration with the Human Flourishing Lab at the Archbridge Institute, asked just over 1,000 American adults a series of questions regarding how they think about and celebrate the winter holidays. We found that Americans with different political beliefs actually have a lot in common. This is cause for celebration because it offers a path for bridging divides in these polarized times.
Americans may increasingly live in bubbles, in which they mainly consume media and interact with others who share their political opinions, but they remain united about the winter holiday season—a period which begins with Thanksgiving and runs through end-of-year religious and cultural celebrations such as Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa, culminating in the celebration of a new year.
First, Americans share a positive holiday mindset. Around nine out of 10 conservatives and liberals agree that the winter holiday season is a time to be thankful for the things they have, and around three-quarters of each group agree that it helps them disconnect from the negative things happening around them. That feeling of gratitude is especially noteworthy because research shows that gratitude improves well-being, promotes resilience, encourages goal-focused motivation, and inspires people to trust and help others. All of these benefits can help divided Americans find common purpose and flourish as individuals.
The majority of Americans across the political divide agree that the holiday season has spiritual significance. For example, 78% of conservatives and 59% of liberals find the spiritual significance of the holiday season to be somewhat or very important, which is consistent with research that conservatives are more likely to report practicing a religious faith than liberals. But the point is widespread agreement, if not absolute uniformity.
When it comes to the season’s more cultural aspects, liberals and conservatives are indistinguishable. Sixty-five percent of each group believe that it is important to recognize aspects of their heritage during the holiday season. Similarly, 69% of each political group believes it is important to participate in holiday traditions, such as watching holiday movies, shopping during holiday sales events, and attending holiday parties.
Liberals and conservatives are also alike in their approach to holiday traditions. Around half of each group says most or all of their holiday traditions are passed down, and around half say their traditions are an equal mix of new and old or mostly new.
Another important commonality: Most Americans across politics view the winter holiday season as a time for nostalgic reflection. Indeed, around 85% of both liberals and conservatives think back on holidays from their childhood fondly, and around 90% of Americans in both groups agree that the winter holiday season is a time to create new memories.
Finally, liberals and conservatives share the view that the winter holidays are about the social connections that make life meaningful. Around 85% of people in each group agree that the winter holiday season is a time to focus on what gives their lives meaning. More than 80% of liberals and conservatives alike report that they feel more connected to loved ones during the season, and around 65% of each group indicate that the feel more connected to their community. Moreover, majorities of each group report that they feel more connected to people all over the country.
This might seem trivial and of little value when it comes to addressing our deep divisions. But, if Americans recognize what they have in common outside of philosophical disagreements, they will be better able to appreciate all Americans’ humanity and be more motivated to find common ground together. This is a time for contentment, connectedness, and thankfulness—for everyone, regardless of the precise holiday they celebrate or party they support. We should keep that at the front of our minds.
As we gather to celebrate in our lives’ different spheres—whether at an office holiday party, a meal with the extended family, or a social media post—we should all make conscious efforts to focus on commonalities instead of the differences which we too often allow to eclipse everything else.
If these realizations can help knit the country just a bit closer together, it would be a miracle worthy of the season.
Clay Routledge is vice president of research and director of the Human Flourishing Lab at the Archbridge Institute. Will Johnson is CEO of The Harris Poll, a global public opinion, market research and strategy firm.