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Would you walk down the aisle with someone who doesn’t share your politics?

We spoke to BYU students about what it’s like to date in an era of political polarization

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Zoë Petersen, Deseret News

Emily Rodriguez uses Mutual, a dating app geared toward members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and she recently noticed users can reveal a new identifying feature: They can let prospective matches know whether they are conservative or liberal. It’s come in handy for Rodriguez; she said she “swipes up” for liberals and “swipes down” for conservative men. 

In the age of COVID-19, Donald Trump and virtue signaling on social media, politics have come to mean so much more than what party you somewhat carelessly registered for at the DMV. How you classify yourself politically affects how people see you, as though your politics were wedded to your identity.

For Gen Z, who came of age during a time of political polarization and changing social norms around privacy because of social media, politics can seem especially fraught when it comes to dating and marriage. This rising generation is already different in meaningful ways from older generations, according to Pew Research Center, with greater ethnic and racial diversity, more education and predominantly liberal views on social issues.

That’s especially true for young women. The growing political progressivism among Gen Z’ers is mostly driven by the changing views of young women. Dubbed “single woke females,” they were seen as one of the demographics that helped Democrats hold back the “red wave” that was supposed to wash over the nation in the 2022 midterm elections. Among unmarried women, 68% voted for Democrats in the last election, while 52% of unmarried men voted for Republicans, according to CNN exit polls.

Will this growing political gap between men and women make it even harder for people to find a romantic partner?

Americans are already more likely to be married to someone of a different race or religion than they are to someone who doesn’t share their politics, according to the latest American Family Survey, a nationally representative annual poll of 3,000 adults conducted by YouGov in July for the Deseret News and Brigham Young University’s Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy.

Among survey respondents, 10% said they were in a mixed-race marriage or committed relationship, 10% were partnered with someone of a different faith, and 7% said they were in a relationship with someone in a different political party. Higher-income couples were more likely to be in a mixed-politics relationship.

Having children is associated with becoming more conservative, so it makes sense that as women and men delay marriage and parenthood, they would be less likely to transition — if so inclined — from a youthful progressivism to conservatism. But if a potential partner’s politics matters when forming relationships, the growing divide between young women and young men could mean less dating and marriage for younger Americans.

So, should we worry that young people might not be able to find romantic partners if they aren’t willing to date across the political aisle?

“I worry when people aren’t able to form the relationships that they want to form,” said Arielle Kuperberg, chair of the Council on Contemporary Families and a sociology professor at the University of North Carolina Greensboro. Young people are less likely to be religious but more likely to have strong political opinions, she said, which could be affecting their dating decisions.

When she was internet dating in the 2000s, before social media became popular, Kuperberg said the dating website she used asked questions about her politics and sorted her into relationships based on her answers. Putting your politics front and center on apps like Mutual shows just how much more important politics has gotten for the younger generation, she said.

There are already several things keeping young adults from getting married, including economic hurdles like having to pay down large student loans or saving up for a home or wedding, she said. Navigating political differences adds one more hurdle to finding someone to date or get married to, and in an age when that has become increasingly difficult, it can possibly lead to other problems.

When young people don’t get married, societies see an increase in political unrest, she said, in part because young people aren’t able to have the kind of life they envision for themselves.

For Jared Ludwig, a senior at BYU who is from Texas, it isn’t someone’s politics that turns him off, but rather how extreme they seem about their political beliefs. Ludwig, who characterizes himself as in the center politically, said he doesn’t have a hard time finding women to date, but said if they wear their politics on their sleeve, he isn’t as likely to ask them out a second time.

“A lot has to do with some virtue signaling,” he said. “That doesn’t come off as authentic to me, and that bothers me.”

For Emily, who is also a senior at BYU and a person of color, politics signal something about a person’s values. She said she worries conservatives don’t believe the same things she does about respecting racial differences or social causes. She also cares about issues like immigration and Black Lives Matter, positions she associates with the political left.

But she does recognize that political polarization has a cost. “It is pretty horrible. We’re missing out on the other half of the population,” she said. “We’re clinging to our political parties and making it almost like our sports teams.”