New Cell Phone Data Shows How Politics Ruin Thanksgiving

People are more likely to bail early on their opposite-party family members, researchers find.

Politics are officially ruining holidays, namely Thanksgiving. After last years’ bitterly contested presidential election, some families who are politically divided cut their Thanksgiving celebrations short by an average of 20 to 30 minutes, reports The Washington Post. People were more likely to bail on family members who are part of the opposing party. The reductions in family time were higher in areas that saw more political ads.

All this comes from a new working paper by M. Keith Chen of UCLA and Ryne Rohla of Washington State University. They matched location data from 10 million smartphones to precinct-level voting data for the 2016 election, and were able to see how people from predominantly Democratic and Republicans areas spent their 2016 Thanksgiving holiday.

A service called Safegraph collected over 17 trillion location markers from 10 million smartphones in Nov. 2016, and Chen and Rohla looked at this data to identify people’s home locations between the hours of 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. Then they looked to see where those people were between the hours of 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving day. If the location was different than the “home” location, they assumed that the person spent Thanksgiving with friends or family. The cellphone data showed when the travelers arrived at a Thanksgiving location and when they left, the Post reports.

The researchers then gathered presidential voting data at the level of voting precinct. From there they asked, “Do Democrats spend less time at Thanksgiving dinners in Republican households than in Democratic ones, and vice-versa? ” The general answer is “yes,” even when controlling for travel and other factors.

They found that “Thanksgiving dinners are further shortened by around 1.5 minutes for every thousand political advertisements aired in the traveler’s home media market,” according to the Post.

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