Talking politics at work is a touchy subject. Is it wise to encourage debate among colleagues, or is the political too personal? While some might say that open discussion can promote understanding and cohesion, others will tell you that you risk creating irreparable rifts within teams.
With the US political landscape at its most polarised in recent years, we set out to measure the impact of current events on the American workplace. Are conversations at the water cooler politically charged, or are co-workers trying to avoid contention?
We asked 5,000 US workers how comfortable they felt voicing their political opinions in front of their peers. What we learnt was that attitudes vary depending on a combination of party affiliation, gender and geographical location.
34% of Americans too scared to talk politics at work: Democrats most at ease
The United States’ constitution guarantees every citizen the right to Freedom of Speech. For a country that prides itself on open discourse, however, we discovered that a surprising number of Americans are too fearful to discuss politics in front of their colleagues.
More than one in three respondents indicated that they do not feel comfortable talking to co-workers about their political beliefs.
A breakdown of the data by political affiliation shows a subtle difference in attitude between Democrats, Republicans and independents.
Across the US, supporters of the Democratic Party feel the most comfortable discussing politics with their colleagues. 68% of Dems stated that they are not concerned about voicing their opinions, compared to 65% of Republicans and 64% of those without a party affiliation.
“Women for Trump” most afraid to discuss politics
2016 was the first time in history the American public had the opportunity to elect a female President. Hillary Clinton’s campaign slogan “I’m with Her” intentionally brought the issue of gender to the forefront of the debate, and many high-profile women, such as Oprah Winfrey and Ellen Degeneres, were vocal in their support for the Democratic candidate.
In contrast, Donald Trump’s provocative style saw him accused by many on the left of being a misogynist. Remarks about former Fox News pundit Megyn Kelly, and the infamous “pussy-grabbing” scandal led to increased criticism. In response, the Trump campaign promoted “Women for Trump” coalitions across the US. The initiative garnered strong support from the right, with eye-catching pink-on-pink “Women for Trump” placards a recognisable fixture at The Donald’s rallies.
Our research shows that, while men are equally happy debating politics in the workplace regardless of their party affiliation, female Republican supporters are notably less at ease than both males, and their Clinton-voting female peers.
Only 62% of women in favour of Trump say they feel confident discussing politics, with more than one third unwilling to air their opinions in the office. Female Democrats show no discernable difference to men of either party in their attitude towards workplace political discourse, with 69% stating that they are at ease.
Democrats in former Blue Wall states the most outspoken group in country
Ahead of Election Day, Hillary Clinton was relying on the loyalty of the Blue Wall to secure herself the presidency.
Of the 18 states named for their historical support for the Democratic candidate, 15 voted as many had expected. However, pundits were surprised when Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania all defected to Trump.
Despite talk of Trump’s unfavourability in Utah, Clinton was unable to convert any of the 21 Republican Strongholds that had supported the GOP in the previous 4 election cycles.
Our survey results show that Democrats in the traditionally blue states and Republicans in traditionally red states both feel more at ease discussing politics at work than supporters of the opposing party. As one would expect, those whose views are backed by the majority are the most comfortable voicing them.
However, the trend is dramatically bucked in the three states that switched allegiance. Democrats in PA, WI and MI are not only more confident discussing politics at work than their Republican colleagues, but are also more vocal than Democrats in the Blue Wall states that remained loyal.
Millennials say it’s good to talk
Every election cycle, both parties fight to attract the young, first time voters. In 2016, the battle was won by Hillary Clinton, who received 55% of the 18-29 vote to Donald Trump’s 37%. Had the election been limited to this age group, Clinton would have won in a dramatic landslide, with 473 electoral college votes to Trump’s 32.
Most surprising was the increase in support for third-party candidates among the American youth. In 2016, candidates who did not represent one of the two major parties received 8% of the 18-29 year old vote, compared to 3% in the previous election.
Our research found that Millennials are most at ease discussing political issues with their co-workers. 68% of 18-34 year olds say they feel no discomfort doing so. Comparatively, 55-64 year olds feel the most afraid of voicing their opinions, with only 62% stating that they would engage in political discourse in the office.
Diversity of opinion is something to be embraced
“Diversity is often thought about in quite narrow terms, such as age and gender”, says Dan Rogers, co-founder of Peakon. “But there are many more ways that a company can be diverse, one of which is political opinion.
“Diverse teams have been shown to be more innovative and creative in their thinking, whereas homogeneous work groups are quicker to hit roadblocks as no one is approaching the task at hand from a different angle.
“Great managers are able to encourage their teams to be respectful of diversity and build a culture where everybody feels comfortable voicing their opinion. Whether the opinion is related to work, or current affairs, the best teams are able to discuss any issue in a constructive way.”