Liberty Vittert: Yes, it's Thanksgiving but you can still serve up politics and religion at your table this year

It didn't used to be so stressful to talk about politics.

There’s a quote by Mark Twain that goes like this: "I am quite sure now that often, very often, in matters concerning religion and politics a man’s reasoning powers are not above the monkey’s.”

I would add that that is pretty insulting to monkeys. However true that may be, from Mark Twain’s endless wisdom, we can surmise that the topics of politics and religion should not be discussed at the Thanksgiving dinner table this week. But, boy will they be.


Especially in today’s political climate, more and more, we are hearing about the strife caused at the Thanksgiving table, not by Susie’s new belly button piercing, but by political debates by the “insane” views, liberal and conservative alike, of distant (and not so distant) family members.

While the statistics I usually like to focus on around the dinner table concern how big of a turkey we need (see here for the greatest statistical diatribe I have ever seen on this topic), let’s take a look at the damage and gain from discussing Twain’s no-go topics over the mashed potatoes.

First and foremost, the frequency of family dinners are directly related to positive adolescent behavior, meaning that the more you have them, the better off your children are. And these aren’t family dinners sitting around the TV, but having meaningful, technology-less interactions discussing all matters of topics.

Harvard psychology lecturer Dr. Bobbi Wegner of Head First Club says research shows “ pushing through uncomfortable family dinner dynamics is worth it. Your children will perform better in school, have better mental health and higher self-esteem.”


But what about discussing politics around the dinner table? Most dread it with almost 60 percent of Americans saying that they are worried about the political discussions to come on Thursday. And this dread has gotten worse over time. As of 2018, for the first time in recent history, Americans say it is more stressful to discuss politics with people they disagree with, than it is informative.

This would easily lead one to believe that Twain (and conventional wisdom) is right, but the statistics might be a bit misleading here.

Politics did not used to be as stressful to talk about. And this isn’t attributed to President Trump as most would assume. In the early 90’s, the political divide between conservatives and liberals was basically the same as between any other group (men and women, white and African-American, etc.), but while the divide has not increased among those groups, it has more than doubled between liberals and conservatives since 1994. This also coincides with the introduction of technology and social media. While research is still inconclusive, it would appear that by deciding not to talk, in person, about politics, we have actually grown farther apart.


So what does this all mean? It means go right ahead and dive into those discussions at Thanksgiving this year, but with a few caveats.

First, statistically speaking, if you are going to discuss politics, you are much more likely to convince others if you have all the facts. USAFacts, a non-partisan data gathering organization, has a special top statistics Thanksgiving report with everything you need to know on every possible Thanksgiving table topic issue.

Second, nominate one person (my Momma could send Ali and Frazier to their respective corners with one look) to be in charge of the “We are finished talking politics at the table” comment.

And finally, make sure you have at least 18 inches per person at the table…no one wants to be in elbow-length of Uncle Fred.

P.S. For the stats nerds, here is my calculation of how big of a turkey you need to get (including for leftovers), copied and slightly changed from the greatest statistical analysis of turkey per person I have ever seen:

T = (((16-((D-3)*.5*(16/5)))*(P-V))/16)*1.5

D is the number of dishes you are serving in addition to the turkey

P is the number of people

V is the number of vegans

T is the turkey size in pounds