Print Post
  • Some research indicates that daughters may have more power than sons when it comes to influencing dads’ political views. Tweet This
  • The problem for fathers and daughters who belong to different parties is not simply that they vote for different candidates. It’s that party affiliation usually reflects our deeply held values on very personal issues and lifestyles. Tweet This
  • A daughter’s college education may also contribute to greater political tensions with dad. Tweet This
Category: Women, Fathers, Politics

In these stressful and divisive political times, how likely is it that father-daughter relationships will be strained or damaged over political differences? And is the damage any greater for daughters than for sons? 

In terms of family stress, the good news is that the apple usually doesn’t fall too far from the tree. Most sons and daughters share their parents’ political beliefs. On the other hand, in a recent study with 4,852 parent-child dyads, slightly more than half of the adult children and their parents did not belong to the same political party. Moreover, in another nationally-representative study that followed hundreds of children over a 32-year span, they were less likely at age 30 and at age 50 to share their parents’ political beliefs than they were age 18. This study found that the beliefs of their spouses, coworkers, and community were generally more influential than their parents’ political beliefs. It’s worth noting, though, that the father’s influence was stronger than the mother’s in predicting children’s political beliefs in adulthood.          

Adding to this strain on family relationships, our political differences have taken on a much more personal, accusatory, vicious tone over the past decade. For example, Pew found that nearly one-third of voters believe members of the other party are not intelligent. Republicans tend to see Democrats as immoral and godless, while Democrats tend to view Republicans as close-minded and bigoted. And in a 2018 American Psychological Association national survey, nearly one- third of adults said that politics have created serious conflicts and ill will in their family. Interestingly, women were more likely than men to feel this way, which can work against family harmony.     

Daughters’ family relationships may also be more stressed by political differences than sons', in part, because of our society’s expectations regarding girls and politics. As Jessica Taft has pointed out in her research, women are often idealized as model citizens who do not protest or rebel or become as upset about political issues as men do. In other words, daughters are assumed and expected to be more manageable and more agreeable than sons. Consequently, fathers may find it more troubling when their daughters reject or strongly disagree with their political beliefs.      

Because women are more likely to identify as Democrats than Republicans, problems in father-daughter relationships can arise when the father is Republican. Nearly 60% of women identify as Democrats or lean Democratic, versus only 44% of men. For Millennials, the number of Democrats increases to 70% for women versus 50% for men, according to the Pew Research Center.  

Several highly-publicized stories about politicians and their daughters highlight these conflicts. When it came to efforts to change congressional redistricting in North Carolina, Thomas Hofeller, manager of the RNC’s data operations, was a powerful force. After his death, his estranged daughter turned his computer hard drive over to the Justice Department, which was investigating him. Similarly, George Wallace’s daughter, Peggy, penned an intimate portrait of her struggle to deal with her father’s racist politics, which she abhorred. Even more recently is the public rift between the 15-year-old daughter of Kellyanne Conway, former advisor to President Trump, and George Conway, an anti-Trump conservative.  

This is not to say that there are no conservative daughters who are at odds with their progressive dads—or that Republican fathers cannot move their daughters further to the right. For example, Senator John McCain’s daughter, Meghan, switched to the Republican party when her father was running for president in 2008 and continues to hold many of his views after his death. Likewise, Ivanka Trump switched her party affiliation from Democrat to Republican after her father became president.       

The problem for fathers and daughters who belong to different parties is not simply that they vote for different candidates. It’s more that party affiliation usually reflects our deeply held values on very personal issues and our own lifestyles. And the differences between the two political parties have become greater over the past decade. 

A daughter’s college education may also contribute to greater political tensions with dad. Women now earn 60% of undergraduate degrees, and a majority of college graduates identify as Democrats. For those dads who are not college graduates, odds are they will have less in common politically with their daughters than with their sons. Furthermore, since 2015, more college students are living at home with their parents than in previous decades. Political rifts with their fathers may be especially damaging for these college students.              

Politically-liberal daughters will be happy to learn that some research indicates that men with daughters tend to become more progressive than those without daughters. One study found that dads’ whose first child was a daughter expressed increased support for policies related to gender equality in the workplace. Likewise, men whose first child was a daughter were more likely to vote for Hillary Clinton in 2016. 

Interestingly, daughters may also have more power than sons when it comes to influencing their dads’ political views. For example, a North Carolina study involving middle-school children who took a course on climate change found that daughters were more effective than sons at influencing their fathers’ views on the issue. The strongest effects occurred on conservative fathers. 

Being apples on our family’s political tree has become increasingly unlikely, especially as we head into the contentious elections this fall. Many dads and daughters are likely to be caught up in family storms on these rough political seas. As we try to keep ourselves afloat, we should heed the research that shows we stand very little chance of convincing one another to change our deeply held political views, except in situations where someone is on the fence and is open to hearing the opposite perspective. So the most important question on the ballot this fall for politically-divided fathers and daughters is this: In the emotional tsunami caused by 2020 national election, what can we both do to keep our father-daughter relationship afloat—and to prevent it from being irreparably destroyed? 

Dr. Linda Nielsen is a Professor of Education at Wake Forest University in Winston Salem, NC. She is the author of an adolescent psychology textbook and five books on father-daughter relationships. Her latest book is Improving father-daughter relationships: A guide for women & their dads