December 12, 2019 | By Jack Benjamin

Naughty or Nice: A Guide to Healthy Political Discourse This Holiday Season

In an era of intense polarization, it can be easy for holiday festivities with the family to devolve into fierce debate on controversial subjects. Though it’s important to maintain healthy political discourse, depending on the topic of choice, your family may see you as naughty or nice for bringing up politics.

Let the data from the annual Chicago Council survey help guide you on which foreign policy topics are agreeable and which are the most contentious along party lines. While conflict-averse individuals may choose to avoid talking politics under any circumstance, there’s no reason to steer clear of stimulating debate this holiday season if you come prepared.

For the Naughty:

Immigration: Republicans’ anti-immigrant beliefs preceded and have continued through the Trump administration. Currently four-in-five Republicans (78%) see large numbers of immigrants and refugees coming into the United States as a critical threat, whereas just one-in-five Democrats (19%) agree. Similar numbers of Republicans would favor the use of US troops to stop immigrants from coming into the United States from Mexico (81%) and think that carrying out more arrests and deportations is an effective strategy to deal with illegal immigration (82%). Meanwhile, three quarters (75%) of Democrats oppose the use of troops to stop immigrants from coming into our southern border, and 70 percent believe that carrying out more arrests and deportations is an ineffective strategy to deal with illegal immigration.

Climate Change: Though the 2019 Chicago Council survey reported that, for the first time, a majority of Americans consider climate change a critical threat, the issue remains partisan. While 78 percent of Democrats say climate change is a critical threat, just 23 percent of Republicans agree, constituting the widest rift reported since the question was first asked in 2010. Further telling of the opinion gap, three quarters (76%) of Democrats say that we should begin taking steps to address climate change now even if it involves significant costs, but only a fifth (20%) of Republicans agree. Instead, a plurality (46%) of Republicans believe that climate change’s effects will be gradual, and thus the problem can be dealt with over time and with low costs. Though the partisan divide on climate change existed well before the Trump administration, the widening gap reflects the administration’s consistent rollback of environmental protections, which have been lauded by Republicans and poorly received by Democrats.

For the Nice:

Support for Security Alliances: Multilateralism remains a key area of consensus among Americans. Even as Trump and Macron sparred over policy and rhetoric at the 2019 NATO summit in London, Americans back at home have maintained steadfast bipartisan support for alliances and working with other countries. 86 percent of Democrats and 62 percent of Republicans still see NATO as essential to our country’s security, and 78 percent of respondents say that we should increase or maintain our commitment to NATO. Meanwhile, majorities of Americans say that security alliances in East Asia (53%), Europe (58%), and the Middle East (50%) benefit both the US and our allies.

International Trade: Support for international trade has been soaring over the past four years, reaching an all-time high in 2019. Though specific policies, such as the imposition of tariffs on China (which Republicans support while Democrats and Independents oppose), remain controversial, overall support for trade is high among all parties. Nearly nine in ten Democrats (89%) and Republicans (87%) say that international trade is good for the US economy, and 86 percent of Democrats and 80 percent of Republicans also say it’s good for American companies in particular.

In conclusion, it’s important to remember that the holidays are a time to come together. Though several controversial foreign policy topics exist for Americans to quarrel about, the holidays are the perfect time to remind ourselves that we share a lot of common ground as well — and if you and your family do not, now is as good a time as any to hear each other’s reasoning. Be it in a naughty or a nice fashion, talking politics over the holidays may be well worth your while.


The Chicago Council on Global Affairs highlights critical shifts in American public thinking on US foreign policy through public opinion surveys and research conducted under the Lester Crown Center on US Foreign Policy. 

The annual Chicago Council Survey, first conducted in 1974, is a valuable resource for policymakers, academics, media, and the general public. The Council also surveys American leaders in government, business, academia, think tanks, and religious organizations biennially to compare trends in their thinking with overall trends. And collaborating with partner organizations, the survey team periodically conducts parallel surveys of public opinion in other regions of the world to compare with US public opinion. 

The Running Numbers blog features regular commentary and analysis from the Council’s public opinion and US foreign policy research team, including a series of flash polls of a select group of foreign policy experts to assess their opinions on critical foreign policy topics driving the news.


| By Karl Friedhoff

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