SPRING CITY, Sanpete County — The Andersons' life resembles the 1960s sitcom Green Acres. One day, the husband asks his wife to move from her “very favorite” house in Salt Lake City to this small, rural town about 100 miles away.
After crying over the thought of leaving her “stunning yard” and “lovely, groomed street,” Alison Anderson decided she wasn’t about to tell her husband, Chris, that his dream of living in the country couldn’t come true.
Now, they have an orchard and vegetable garden out back, and every so often, their beautiful rock barn hosts herds of people for dinner. “We have more fun than a barrel of monkeys,” she laughs.
With all their differences, Chris and Alison have made things work. Each day, Chris, 65, commutes to his law practice in Lehi, while Alison, 61, owns an online clothing business.But more baffling to those living in this central Utah artists' enclave is how the Andersons manage to navigate another difference in their lives: How can Alison, a die-hard Democrat, and Chris, a rock-ribbed Republican, make a marriage work? According to the third annual American Family Survey, they’re among a minority that even attempt it.
Of women who identify as Democrats, 82 percent said their spouse was also a Democrat, 10 percent said Independent, and 9 percent said Republican. Of women who identify as Republican, 91 percent said their spouse was a Republican, 6 percent said Independent, and 3 percent said Democrat. The results for men showed a similar pattern, with a majority saying their spouse has the same political affiliation, and the smallest share believing their spouse is of “opposite” partisanship.
The 2017 American Family Survey, conducted by YouGov for the Deseret News and the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at Brigham Young University, surveyed 3,000 Americans and found that though a majority of people say they are married to someone of the same partisanship, a small number make it work across party lines.
In this small, mostly conservative town, Chris Anderson often hears people say of his and Alison’s political differences, “Oh my goodness! Isn’t that sort of the difference between right and wrong?” or “What do you talk about?” accompanied by amazement that Chris and Alison can even live together.
Alison's answer is simple: “Love and respect.” She said this response often evokes more surprise and starts a conversation on why she chooses to be a Democrat.
Chris said conversation and representation of various opinions are good things — both for the government and his home.
Dating for a year followed by a year-long engagement gave Alison and Chris plenty of time to learn about each other's political leanings before getting married. But Alison said it took time for them to see that their differences were “enriching” for their relationship and marriage.
Today, she is a member of the Sanpete County Democratic Party committee and president of Friends of Historic Spring City, while he is the former Spring City precinct Republican chair and member of the Spring City city council.
Couples like the Andersons are rare, said Eitan Hersh, associate professor of political science at Tufts University. According to his research, seven in 10 married couples are of the same political affiliation, two in 10 are partisans married to an Independent and one in 10 are partisans married to someone from another political party.
Overall, the American Family Survey results showed most people said their spouses belonged to the same party, although women across party affiliations said their spouses had the same partisan affiliation at a slightly higher rate than men. For example, 91 percent of Republican women said their spouse was Republican compared to 78 percent of Republican men who said their spouse was Republican.
While Alison said she and her children, who lean politically liberal, know Chris is set in his politics, he’s had to assure fellow Republicans where his political loyalties lie.
When the family first moved to Spring City and Chris was running for his first party position, he recalled the Republican party chairman asking, "We heard your wife’s a Democrat. How can that be? Are you really a Republican?”
Their yard displaying both Republican and Democratic political signs generated some confusion, as well. But Chris said the neighbors are used to it now.
Both Chris and Alison say they’re not so extreme that they agree with everything on their respective party platforms, and their relationship helps them understand the other side of the issues.
Making it work
With the current political climate as divided as it is, it would seem bipartisan marriages would experience the same type of tension. However, results from the American Family Survey show there’s only a slight chance couples of differing partisanship might experience more marital problems than other couples.
Women and men who saw their partner with a differing partisanship were about 8 percent more likely to say their marriage was in trouble, but the study indicated that number isn't statistically significant enough to indicate that differing partisanship causes marital problems.
In general, men and women who experienced a difference in partisanship in their marriages didn’t appear to be dissatisfied with their marriages. And when a person didn’t really follow the news, they were even less likely to be dissatisfied with their marriages.
BYU family life professor Stephen Duncan, who specializes in relationship education, said there will be differences of opinion in any marriage, but how couples deal with those differences makes the difference — including when it comes to politics.
“It’s not about converting: a Republican converting a Democrat or a Democrat converting a Republican to their point of view,” he said.
Rather, Duncan suggests couples try to understand each other's point of view and respect the right to feel strongly about something, which is what Chris says he has tried to do throughout his 40-year marriage.
“When your partner is someone from a different viewpoint, you really have to try to appreciate that viewpoint and understand that everyone's got a valid point,” he said.
Alison said she and Chris have had to learn to give each other the benefit of the doubt and keep harsh language out of conversations, especially when it comes to politics.
“We have had plenty of lively discussions, but the secret is love and respect,” she said. “We have a great deal of respect for one another’s mind and the way we arrive at a point of view.”
Research shows couples who share values often work better. Alison said that although she and Chris have different political affiliations, they have important values in common, such as expectations for their children, spending habits, the way to treat others, importance of education, church involvement, honesty and desire to make a difference in the world.
In a telling indication of how people of different political perspectives can understand each other, both Alison and Chris gave the same answer in separate interviews about how they make their marriage work.
“We don’t match, but we fit,” they each said.
Alison also remembers an old saying: “Republican boys don’t mean to marry Democrat girls, but the girls who are Democrats are so much more fun,” she said. “I bet (Chris) would agree with that.”