Generational Disputes Could Figure Into Plans, Psychology Faculty Member Says

ST. LEO, FL – Are you afraid your Thanksgiving table could turn into a disaster with thrown mashed potatoes and lobbed turkey legs? A new Saint Leo University Polling Institute survey shows political discourse and disagreement is playing into some Thanksgiving plans. But most Americans say they will put away the grudges and pass the gravy.

The Saint Leo University Polling Institute ( survey was fielded nationally online among 1,167 adults from October 11 through October 17, 2018. When all 1,167 answered questions, the margin of error for results is plus or minus 3.0 percentage points.

The polling institute also sampled opinions of 698 likely voters in Florida, where Saint Leo University is based. The survey was conducted October 16 through October 22, 2018, using an online survey instrument. The Florida poll has a +/- 3.5 percent margin of error at a 95 percent confidence level (on a composite basis).

Poll results show 48.9 percent of Americans surveyed say they will spend time with families on the holiday on November 22, with 51.1 percent of those surveyed in Florida reporting the same. The national poll finds 10.6 percent say they will spend time with friends, 28.1 percent say they will spend time with a combination of friends and family while 4.9 percent say they will not celebrate the holiday. Polls results in Florida show 8.5, 30.2, and 5.2 percent, respectively, in those categories.

For those who are going to observe the holiday with family and friends, nationally nearly one-third, 30.4 percent, say tension plays a role in how they plan to host or attend Thanksgiving gatherings. The poll shows 64.2 percent say tension is not figuring into their plans on whom to invite or the amount of time to spend together.

Two-fifths, 40.4 percent, of those who will spend Thanksgiving with family or friends say tension has increased either significantly or somewhat over the past five years, while 54.2 percent say they have not seen or experienced political strife.

“Overall, the percentage of Americans endorsing the role of politics in their holiday plans or to having tension in their homes was somewhat modest—30 percent to 40 percent,” said Dr. Christopher Wolfe, assistant professor of psychology at Saint Leo University. “It would seem that most Americans are welcoming their Thanksgiving with few misgivings to air over the turkey. Many Americans endorsed actively avoiding controversial topics over the holiday; opting for peaceful over combative.”

The Saint Leo poll presented those saying they expected to spend Thanksgiving with friends/family with several statements and asked to respond “yes,” “no,” or “unsure.” The “yes” results are:

Thanksgiving Holiday Statements National Yes – % Florida Yes – %
We avoid controversial topics at Thanksgiving gatherings I host/attend 56.7 60.6
I encourage political conversation at Thanksgiving gatherings I host or attend 27.8 24.4
We encourage political conversation at Thanksgiving gatherings but limit time or close the conversation down if it gets heated 24.1 24.9
I feel less connected to family and friends due to the political polarization and divide that is occurring 23.9 23.6
Sometimes I feel baited or goaded into heated political conversations at Thanksgiving gatherings I host or attend 22.4 22.6
I am stressed and anxious in advance of and during Thanksgiving gatherings I host/attend due to heated political debates/disagreements 17.1 19.6
I have declined Thanksgiving gathering invitations, this year or in the past, due to the political divide and expected conflicts and disagreements that will likely occur 16.9 17.2


“It is not surprising to see that majority of Florida residents [60.6 percent] and Americans [56.7 percent] state they avoid controversial topics during Thanksgiving dinner,” said Dr. Diane Monahan, associate professor of communication management at Saint Leo University. “During mealtime, there are certain topics that are considered taboo and are generally avoided. Politics and religion have long been topics that are avoided in certain contexts. The current political climate suggests that such conversations are more volatile than perhaps previously. In conversations one basically has two ways to respond to conflict: One can choose to match or exceed the other person’s intensity or reduce the intensity. At Thanksgiving, many are trying to maintain a state of peace and happiness.”

Among those who say political tensions strongly impact their Thanksgiving plans, it is the youngest poll respondents in Florida (ages 18 to 44) who say it figures into their holiday festivities, 47.9 percent. Among national respondents, that figure is 42.3 percent. The 45-to-64 bracket is less apt to report conflict at 18.1 percent in Florida and 17.4 percent nationally, while the oldest group, ages 65 and older, report 21.4 percent and 8.8 percent, respectively.

“The impact generational perspective reveals an interesting set of differences,” Wolfe said.  “Disagreements in political philosophy are often driven by younger members of societies and that age difference may indicate the source of tension arises between these two age [younger vs. older] groups.”

As many generations gather to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday, political difference could affect the get-togethers.

“At some level, these are hardly new questions for many of us,” Wolfe, the Saint Leo associate professor of psychology, said. “Children rebel against the views of their parents, who have in turn, completed their rebellion from their parents. The cyclical nature of these relationships has long provided writers of TV sitcoms with a wealth of material to draw from.”

Most humans seek to avoid conflict, Wolfe added. However, people often accumulate small grievances, allowing them to build. “Conflicts are like snow and pack together, weighting down and chilling the relationship; eventually something triggers an avalanche,” Wolfe said. “As we neuter our interactions during Thanksgiving, we are actively engaged in avoiding conflict and the long term results is the growth of feelings of conflict.  At some point the dam breaks; definitely designed to ruin the turkey.”

About the Poll
METHODOLOGY: This national survey was conducted October 11 through October 17, 2018 among a base of 1,167 respondents, using an online instrument. Politically, the composition of the sample was 24.9 percent Republican, 24.9 percent Democrat, 26.9 percent independent (or unaffiliated); and 8.7 percent from another party. The remaining 14.7 percent indicated they are unsure. The survey has a +/- 3.0 percent margin of error at a 95 percent confidence level on a composite basis.

In Florida, the survey was used to sample opinions of 698 registered likely voters across the state. The survey was conducted October 16 through October 22, 2018, using an online survey instrument. The political composition of the voter base was 35.5 percent Republican, 38.1 percent Democrat, 24.1 percent unaffiliated, and 1 percent from another party. The remaining 1 percent indicated they were unsure. The Florida poll has a +/- 3.5 percent margin of error at a 95 percent confidence level (on a composite basis).

The Saint Leo University Polling Institute conducts its surveys using cutting-edge online methodology, which is rapidly transforming the field of survey research. The sample is drawn from large online panels, which allow for random selections that reflect accurate cross sections of all demographic groups. Online methodology has the additional advantage of allowing participants to respond to the survey at a time, place, and speed that is convenient to them, which may result in more thoughtful answers. The Saint Leo University Polling Institute develops the questionnaires, administers the surveys, and conducts analysis of the results. Panel participants typically receive a token incentive—usually $1 deposited into an iTunes or Amazon account—for their participation.

The Saint Leo University Polling Institute survey results about national and Florida politics, public policy issues, Pope Francis’ popularity, and other topics, can also be found here: You can also follow the institute on Twitter @saintleopolls.

Media contacts: Mary McCoy, Saint Leo University, University Communications or (352) 588-7118 or (813) 610-8416 (cell/text).

Jo-Ann Johnston, Saint Leo University, University Communications or (352) 588-8237 or (352) 467-0843 (cell/text).     

More About Saint Leo University
Saint Leo University ( is a modern Catholic teaching university that is firmly grounded in the liberal arts tradition and the timeless Benedictine wisdom that seeks balanced growth of mind, body, and spirit. The Saint Leo University of today is a private, nonprofit institution that creates hospitable learning communities wherever students want to be or need to be, whether that is a campus classroom, a web-based environment, an employer’s worksite, a military base, or an office park. Saint Leo welcomes people of all faiths and of no religious affiliation, and encourages learners of all generations. The university is committed to providing educational opportunities to the nation’s armed forces, veterans, and their families. Saint Leo is regionally accredited to award degrees ranging from the associate to the doctorate, and the faculty and staff guide all students to develop their capacities for critical thinking, moral reflection, and lifelong learning and leadership.

The university remains the faithful steward of the beautiful lakeside University Campus in the Tampa Bay region of Florida, where its founding monks created the first Catholic college in the state in 1889. Serving nearly 12,000 students, Saint Leo has expanded to downtown Tampa, to other sites in Florida and beyond, and maintains a physical presence in seven states. The university provides highly respected online learning programs to students nationally and internationally. More than 93,000 alumni reside in all 50 states, in Washington, DC, in three U.S. territories, and in 76 countries.