In our Love App-tually series, Mashable shines a light into the foggy world of online dating.
After 26-year-old Brandon Fellows stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, . Instead, he boasted that his Bumble profile was “blowing up.”
All the while, on dating apps. amid the chaos, only to reinstate it a day later after users complained.
Politics is personal, and that’s been — but as the global health crisis collided with a heated election and an attempted coup, it shifted things even further and now politics on dating apps are thornier than ever.
How did we get here?
In a study published in January 2017, , a political science professor at Stanford University, and his co-author Gregory A. Huber concluded that .
“It appears as if in the contemporary period political orientations directly affect the social relationships people seek to form, which results in increased political homogeneity in formed relationships,” Malhotra and Huber wrote. “This has the potential to amplify polarization through the creation of homogenous social networks and households.”
And that was four years ago. In the time since, Malhotra believes that the country has become more polarized and attributes it to a phenomenon called sorting. In the 1970s and 80s, Malhotra explained, saying you were a Republican or Democrat meant many different things. “You could be a conservative Southern democrat, you could be a liberal northeastern Republican,” he said.
That’s certainly not the case now — but that’s not because of Trump. While he was uniquely abhorrent, he didn’t cause the riff between parties. Neither did social media. Both Malhotra and , a social psychologist at the University of Indiana, cited the over the past several decades as a bigger factor in the increase in polarization.
“Even though this year feels very bad and maybe everything is getting to a critical point, actually there’s been a concerning rise in polarization in Americans for a long time,” Konrath, author of the upcoming Culture of Burnout: American life in the age of increasing expectations, said. “It’s highly overlapped with increases in economic inequality.” Pew shows a widening gap in beliefs between Republicans and Democrats since the early 1990s — long before the Trump administration or Twitter.
As the rich have gotten richer and the poor poorer, a wedge has been driven between Democrats and Republicans over who is “deserving” of monetary benefits, as Konrath put it, “who gets more of the pie.” This affects other debates about how the country should be run as a whole: Who gets to vote? Who gets to have healthcare? Who should pay for it all?
“Now when you say you’re a Democrat or Republican, that is associated not just with a bundle of policy views but also a lot of identity and world views that are a strong signal [of your values],” Malhotra continued.
As University of Pennsylvania professor Yphtach Lelkes said in 2019, and not the cause. Along with , however, .
Political polarization on Tinder, OkCupid, and beyond
We bring our real-life experiences onto dating apps, Konrath explained, and we can see this acceleration of polarization across different platforms. It’s clear from data that users want to signal their own values and care about potential matches’ values as well.
From mid-2016 to mid-2017, the jumped from 24.6 percent to 68 percent; for men, that jump was 16.5 percent to 47 percent. Almost said they couldn’t date someone with strong opposing political views in 2020. According to survey, 76 percent of signals believe it’s important for partners to share political beliefs — up 25 percent from 2017. By the end of last year,
“A year and a half ago, I started adding explicit references to prison abolition and Communism on my dating profiles,” an anonymous abolitionist in New York City told me. The goal, he said, wasn’t to find someone who matched his politics exactly, but rather to deter those who hate them. “I had done something similar with polyamory before — get the dealbreakers out in the open early,” he said.
“Now when you say you’re a Democrat or Republican, that is associated not just with a bundle of policy views but also a lot of identity and world views.”
If you look at dating from an economic perspective, it’s basically a complicated and costly search process, according to Malhotra. Given the cost, whether it be in money or time, users want more information about potential matches to make their search a bit easier. That’s one reason why people may be so ready to disclose their politics, he said.
We need ways to make information flow manageable, said Debra Mashek, relationships researcher and founder of . “Political identification is a quick cut that helps us. If we go, ‘Oh if I really could go out with any of these thousands of people, then maybe I should eliminate a couple thousand based on this information.'”
, assistant teaching professor of business communications at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business, agreed that users want something to help with the search — especially right now. “We all have so much pandemic fatigue that there’s not a lot of cognitive or emotional energy that we have to put out there when we’re looking for someone on a dating app,” she said.
Politics, Bevins said, can be an “extra filter” or shortcut to cut through hundreds of faces when we find ourselves doomswiping. Due to the , as well, someone’s political views can also signal what measures they’re taking to protect themselves and others.
“That becomes a safety issue,” Bevins said, “and how much we are willing to mitigate risk.” She referenced which revealed that mentions of masks went up by 10 times last year. People’s political affiliation, she continued, can hint at their potential behavior.
While this is a generalization, the Pew Research Center reported last June that most or all the time in stores. What’s more is that Republicans and Democrats may have different moral foundations, Konrath said, referencing the work of social psychologist . In his 2012 book , Haidt theorized that conservatives’ most sacred moral value is preserving tradition. Liberals’, on the other hand, is helping the oppressed. We’ve seen this play out almost a decade after Haidt’s book when it comes to COVID safety measures.
“I’m not going to meet up with someone during this time unless I know they believe that COVID is real and are taking precautions,” said Emma Levine, a Bumble and Hinge user in Los Angeles. “If you’re serious about trying to meet someone, for me at least, politics or at least general current event knowledge is a non-negotiable.”
For Rebecca, a Bumble and Hinge user in New York City, how someone handled the pandemic will be top of mind when it’s over. “I’ve been thinking about dating post pandemic and figuring out how to ask ‘did you go on vacation during the pandemic’ or ‘who did you vote for in 2016,'” she said. “Both answers will help me understand a person’s values and what is negotiable for me or not.”
Others, however, are willing to reach across the proverbial aisle on dating apps. Kristina, a liberal woman in the Tampa Bay Area, says she doesn’t mind dating across the political spectrum, but she swipes left if a potential match displays something on their profile she disagrees with. She swipes left on MAGA hats and Trump signs as well as people who say they don’t vote.
“If you’re serious about trying to meet someone, for me at least, politics or at least general current event knowledge is a non-negotiable.”
“Unless you aren’t allowed to vote, there’s no excuse in my book,” she said.
Kristina isn’t alone in being turned off by non-voters. Last year, over 500,000 OkCupid users said they wouldn’t date someone who didn’t vote. Nicole*, a woman who lives outside of Washington, D.C., said she doesn’t want a connection with someone apolitical. “In my view, to put apolitical in your profile says to me you’re disengaged and don’t care about politics because you don’t have to,” she said. “I think politics, while not everything, are important. To say you’re apolitical just tells me we’re probably incompatible.”
In Rebecca’s experience, people who leave political filter blank don’t care. “This also isn’t ideal for me because …in this climate!?” she asked. “Lives are at stake and it says a lot to me about your personality (and privilege) if you don’t care.”
Post-Trump politics on dating apps
Now that the election and inauguration are behind us — and hopefully, the pandemic’s end is in sight — there’s the question of whether polarization will subside in the upcoming years. If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that it’s difficult to predict anything, but as Malhotra put it: The hope is that it can’t get worse.
“Trump would unnecessarily inflame polarization,” he said, referring to his tweets. Biden, however, only inflames when necessary. “There’s actually a policy goal [with Biden],” Malhotra said.
While we thankfully don’t have to bear witness to Trump’s tweets anymore, Biden will have to do much more than go without all-caps tweet storms to make a dent in the polarization level. That’s because the root of the issue is much bigger than Biden or Trump. If economic inequality isn’t addressed, Konrath said, the problem of polarization will not go away.
“As long as the rich keep getting richer — as it’s been accelerating during the pandemic — then I don’t expect polarization to go away,” she said. “If this administration puts policies in place that starts to help reduce inequality…then we’ll see. Then I think there’s some potential that people will feel more willing to collaborate.”
In the meantime, then, we’ll have to deal with this divide in our daily lives and dating apps. While Rebecca still sees politics pop up on apps in New York, Kristina said they’ve lessened in her area since inauguration. “Thankfully no more MAGA hats, Trump signs,” Kristina said, “and I definitely didn’t run across people bragging about the Capitol insurrection.”
Nicole, on the other hand, did see rioters on Bumble shortly after the insurrection. She reported one or two then snoozed her account, which hides her profile from potential matches. She couldn’t tell me when she plans on going back.
*Name has been changed to protect the privacy of the individual.