Why can’t we be friends? Because we’re partisan.

August 22, 2012

The old saw of keeping your friends close but your enemies closer stops short at partisan relationships. Only 1 in 10 Republicans say most of their friends and family are Democrats, according to a new Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll.

Just as few Democrats -- 10 percent -- admit to palling around with members of the opposing team. To put this in starker terms, two-thirds of partisans say most of their friends and family are of the same political persuasion.

This affinity for like-minded relationships -- almost identical to a similar survey in 2009 -- hints at the feedback loop most partisan Americans live in: One with few opportunities for confronting political differences and a lot of team reinforcement.

The finding could be a result of two possibilities: 1) Democrats and Republicans are choosing their like-partisan friends, and 2) family connections are built in with similar partisan leanings. It's a choice, and it is preordained.

These cloistered partisan relationships are not completely uniform, however. A deeper dive into the Post and Kaiser's detailed groups of political affiliation finds that the partisan groups who depart from party orthodoxy the most are also the ones with fewer friends of the same partisan stripes.

For example, among the least-reliable Republican group -- what we call "window shoppers" -- only 51 percent say that most of their family and friends are also Republicans. The least-reliable Democratic group, the "DIY Democrats," say 53 percent of their friends and family are also Democrats.

Political independents are helping to break the cycle. While they do prefer the company of other independents, they are much less likely than partisans to be so exclusive. Just under four in 10 say most of their friends are also independents, while 24 percent apiece say most friends are Republicans or Democrats.

Breaking down the different types of independents finds that those with strong party leanings differ in one key way from actual partisans -- offering a clue to the reasons this group refuses a party label.

While two-thirds of Republicans and Democrats say most of their friends share their party affiliation, just 31 percent of "disguised Republicans" say most of their friends are Republicans, and four in 10 "disguised Democrats" say most of their friends and family are Democrats.

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Sean Sullivan · August 22, 2012