Information Articles, Presidential Election

Election brings out the good and bad with people’s political beliefs

By Mark Hofmann

Published 2:30 AM EST

As either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump verbally fight their way to the White House, people’s political beliefs in some cases have gone past the boiling point.

A few weeks ago, a GOP office was firebombed around the same time a Clinton campaign sign was vandalized outside of a county Democrat office, both in North Carolina.

In Pennsylvania, someone upturned the tombstone of Clinton’s father, Hugh Rodham, at a Scranton cemetery, and just last week, someone spray painted several homes in Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey’s Zionsville neighborhood with anti-GOP messages.

Locally, however, things have been quiet.

John Hartman, the chief of the Southwest Regional Police Department, said the civilians have remained civil.

“I hope it stays that way,” he said.

“I’ve never had anything more serious than the questioning of a missing sign,” said Uniontown police Lt. Tom Kolencik. “Occasionally we get that call, and weather is normally a factor.”

Kolencik said in his years of law enforcement, he has never had to respond to a bar fight or a domestic assault that stemmed from a difference over politics.

“It never amounts to anything more than a disagreement,” Kolencik said. “Everyone remains pretty civil and cordial.”

While he hasn’t seen any, Hartman said politically-motivated crimes have become a sobering reality of this election cycle.

“Part of that is not only the national news, but social media bringing everything worldwide,” Hartman said.

Margaret L. Signorella, professor of psychology and women’s, gender and sexuality studies at Penn State’s Greater Allegheny Campus, said social media has led to a new level of intensity in opinions.

“(A) lot of the nasty discourse online is because it is anonymous, and consists of behaviors that the individuals would probably not do face to face,” Signorella said. “It is well established that people will engage in more antisocial behavior when anonymous.”

Justin Hackett, social psychologist and assistant professor of psychology at California University of Pennsylvania, said in an online environment, people who may already lean one way or another create a bubble with others that share the same viewpoint.

“We become more solidified and confident, and make our attitudes more extreme,” Hackett said. “We only expose ourselves to people who enforce our preconceived notions.”

The extreme partisanship typically eases after the election is over, he said.

“In that moment in time, the reconciliation process will start to happen,” Hackett said.

Until that happens, Signorella has advice for someone caught in a politically heated conversation: distract or de-escalate.

Finding common ground can also cool down a heated debate, Hackett said.

“That’s always a way to minimize the uncomfortableness,” Hackett said. “Or just end the conversation.”

While some with differing political views have trouble getting along during the election season, there are others who truly show that opposites attract.

That’s the case for state Rep. Ryan Warner and his wife, Leslie Warner.

The Perryopolis couple has been together for eight years, and although she’s a staunch Democrat, and he’s firmly GOP, the two put politics aside when they walked down the aisle.

Ryan Warner said a bumper sticker on the back of wife’s car first tipped him off that they had differing political views.

“(I)t wasn’t really a shock,” he said. “Leslie had an open mind anytime that we would talk about politics so I guess, even though we didn’t always see eye to eye, it was never as issue for me.”

Leslie Warner said even though they have different viewpoints on some issues, she admires her husband’s sense of love and pride for the country and the community.

“He constantly suggested that I trade my Volkswagen for a vehicle made in the USA, and he anticipates the 4th of July like a child does Christmas,” she said.

“There are plenty of times that we have discussions back and forth regarding politics, but I don’t think either of us takes our differences personally,” Ryan Warner said. “I respect her opinions and she respects mine and often times, with civil discussions, we can find some common ground to agree on.”

Leslie Warner said humor goes a long way when you don’t agree with someone’s political views. Understanding plays a vital role, too.

“I think our relationship has helped him as state representative,” she said. “He knows the other side and the other views and issues before he ever steps into the capitol, so he is very aware of how the other side feels.”

In reality, said marriage and family therapist Sacha Martin, the divide from the Democrats and Republicans in this area isn’t so big.

“Most Democrats in (this area) support gun rights, are religious and believe in other conservative values,” said Martin, of Mount Pleasant. “Basically, they are Republicans except for two things….unions and pulling that ‘D’ lever.”

That said, Martin believes two people in a blue-state/red-state relationship can make it work based on the respect they have for each other.

“Most people identify as a Democrat or a Republican, but never think of it beyond that,” Martin said. “For those that are more political and think of it more, they need to be able to respect each other enough to accept that the other holds a different opinion on things.”

Leslie Warner said she considers herself more of an Independent, learning as much as she can about a candidate and voting for the best person for the job.

“I enjoy listening to Ryan talk about politics,” she said. “And, in turn, he seems fascinated by my point of view.”

She said she sees her husband less as a public official, and more as her best friend, business partner and a dedicated father to their two children.

“Just like in politics, before we are Republicans or Democrats, we are all Americans and we need to remember that common bond,” Ryan Warner said. “That same approach should be taken in marriage, before you’re a liberal or a conservative, you should be husband and wife.”

For those opposites who end up attracting, Martin said a peaceful coexistence would probably depend on how different each person’s belief system is.

“If one believes a woman’s role is to be barefoot and in the kitchen and the other is a hardcore feminist, I doubt they can coexist peacefully,” Martin said. “If the differences are not that severe, then it is more about communication and acceptance that the other believes something different.”

Of course, once Election Day has come and gone and America’s new president is chosen, Martin said there is another tried-and-true method to avoid a conflict if one person in a relationship didn’t see the outcome for which they voted.

“I’ve heard someone say that there are two things you don’t talk about in polite company, religion and politics.”

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