Online Dating: Screening For Politics Helps Divide America, Professor Suggests

American politics seems increasingly divided. Is online dating to blame? That’s the argument being made this week by University of Rhode Island professor Shanna Pearson-Merkowitz, who has also worked in the past on state and local political campaigns.

The debate appeared to be sparked by a new study in the September 2013 issue of the journal Political Behavior. The study wanted to find out whether or not people who dated online would choose potential partners based on their politics.

I don’t think it will come as any great surprise to anyone that the researchers said, “Using a sample of Internet dating profiles we find that both liberals and conservatives seek to date individuals who are like themselves.”

Well, sure. Of course they do. If you have the entire world of online dating to choose from, why not drill down and try to get somebody you can get along with?

But Pearson-Merkowitz suggested in the Pacific Standard on Monday that this process of political selection by online daters could lead to a growing divide between Americans.

To a certain extent, I can see the logic of her argument. If I’m meeting a new guy in a bar, I can see his cute rear end long before he opens his mouth and chases me away with his stupid politics.

But if I’m dating online, I can already find out what’s in his head before I get a chance to be captivated by his good looks and charming personality.

Is that completely terrible? Maybe.

Pearson-Merkowitz thinks it’s a problem for this reason:

“The Internet…allows people to be pickier about who qualifies as ‘acceptable’ before they ever have the chance to meet. As a result, we now can limit our exposure to contradictory political information in advance—information that political scientists have determined to be critical in making us tolerant citizens.”

Is that a valid fear? Do I have to listen to the cute guy rant about political ideas I think are completely idiotic in order to develop tolerance?

I mean, the greater good is nice and all. But if individuals want to avoid years of love/hate with some physically attractive person who is intellectually incompatible, then why shouldn’t they?

For that reason, I suspect that screening for politics while dating online is here to stay.

[models dating photo by Syda Productions via Shutterstock]

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