When David Huzzard’s friend posted some QAnon conspiracy theories on Facebook in the fall, Huzzard first assumed the best of intentions. He recalls thinking: “Maybe they just got tricked.”

Huzzard, a 40-year-old pet store owner in Virginia Beach, is well-versed in the art of maintaining friendships with people who don’t vote like he does. Huzzard is a Democrat in a city that narrowly went for President Biden in the 2020 election.

Then his friend’s rhetoric got stronger. Shortly before the election, Huzzard’s friend posted on Facebook again, this time sharing falsehoods about how mail-in ballots were subject to fraud. Huzzard and his wife were taking extra caution to avoid covid-19 as they were expecting a baby in November and planned to vote absentee. Huzzard didn’t address the issue with his friend directly, instead publishing his own Facebook post saying: “If you’re against mail-in voting, you’re against my voting rights and you’re no longer my friend.”

Still, Huzzard and his friend remained cordial whenever they saw one another in person. He considered inviting this friend and her husband over for dinner. But as the other couple continued sharing online disinformation about the efficacy of masks and the coronavirus vaccines, Huzzard and his wife decided that for the safety of their family and their unvaccinated children, they would no longer socialize with them.

The Trump era has sparked bitter divisions amid family members, neighbors and couples. A June study from the American Enterprise Institute found that 15 percent of adults have ended a friendship over politics, and of those who did, 22 percent volunteered that they had ended one over a mismatch in support for former president Donald Trump.

Republicans like Huzzard’s former pal tend to have more bipartisan friendships than Democrats do: Just over half of Republicans, 53 percent, said they have at least some friends who are Democrats, AEI found, while about a third of Democrats (32 percent) said they have at least some Republican friends.

But when differences in political beliefs veer into a mismatch in values, as was the case with Huzzard and his friend, is it possible to remain close? The AEI study didn’t explicitly examine how approaches to covid-19 or vaccination hesitancy affect friendships, says Daniel A. Cox, AEI’s resident scholar in polling and public opinion, who oversaw the think tank’s study.

However, Cox notes that Trump had a way of making things that were previously not defined as political, such as belief in facts or the efficacy of vaccines, into partisan issues. Trump inspired such intense devotion in his followers, and when that happens, Cox says, “it becomes a lot more difficult to bear and take criticism of that person.”

A Hispanic woman told AEI: “If they were a fan of DJT, I wanted nothing to do with them.” Trump supporters were also willing to walk away from friends, AEI notes, quoting a study participant who said they unfriended people online and stopped talking to people “who didn’t respect our great President Trump.” Liberal women were the most likely to cut ties: A third said they stopped being friends with someone because of their politics.

Cox adds that race plays a role, too. Black Democrats, for example, have very few Republican friends, so they don’t often have the opportunity to engage across the political aisle. “People who are strong partisans tend to be more segregated socially,” Cox adds.

However, if people can forge friendships across the political divide, there’s a lot to be gained. Americans with such ties are “less likely to have extreme attitudes and develop stereotypes of the other side,” Cox says.

Elizabeth Pipko, a 26-year-old Republican-leaning White woman who worked on the 2016 Trump campaign, estimates that most of her friends lean to the left. While she’s lost longtime friends over a mismatch in politics, she’s maintained those relationships where she and her pals can understand where the other person is coming from. When discussing the Black Lives Matter movement with a Black male friend last year, Pipko remembers her friend telling her: “The only thing I want from you is just to listen.” They sat and talked for hours, Pipko says, and he looked at her as a friend, not as a Republican. “It was nice when he spoke to me as Elizabeth, not as whoever might happen to lean right and disagree with me.”

How do you decide whether to remain close with someone whose beliefs contradict yours? Marisa Franco, a psychologist who specializes in friendship and is not affiliated with the AEI study, counsels people to take a step back, weigh the relationship holistically and ask themselves: Are there pros that outweigh the cons? Since a lot of liberals are people of color, Franco notes, “it might be more stressful for them to be friends with someone across the political divide because it threatens their sense of safety or dignity.”

“It’s okay to not want to be friends with people who make you feel unsafe,” Franco adds. People look to friendship for a sense of ease and comfort. And when individuals are making friends with people with different values, Franco notes, “they don’t necessarily feel they can get that ease.”

Emily Guskin contributed to this report.

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