Thanksgiving debates on food — and, sometimes, politics — come to tables nationwide

November 21, 2023, 5:44 PM GMT+0

More than eight in ten Americans will celebrate Thanksgiving this year. It’s a celebration joined by large shares of Democrats and Republicans, according to the latest Economist/YouGov Poll, though Republicans are 5 percentage points more likely than Democrats and 14 points more likely than Independents to be celebrating Thanksgiving this year. Among people who usually celebrate the holiday, 16% are aware of how politics can intrude on the celebration: They say that there have been political arguments at their Thanksgiving dinners.

Men, liberals, city dwellers, and adults under 30 are more likely than women, conservatives, people living in rural or suburban areas, and Americans 65 and older to say they have had past political arguments at their Thanksgiving table. For 8% of people who usually celebrate Thanksgiving — or about half the share who have had a political argument at Thanksgiving — a political argument has ruined at least one Thanksgiving.

Some Thanksgiving arguments start with two guests from opposite sides of the aisle. 30% of those who celebrate Thanksgiving say they could not say what the politics of their dinner guests will be this year, according to a separate Nov. 7-9 YouGov poll. However, half of Americans who voted for Donald Trump in 2020 say most of the people at their Thanksgiving dinner would also be Trump supporters, and only 2% say they’d be dining mostly with people who voted for Joe Biden. Fewer Biden voters (44%) say they would mostly be with Biden supporters and 5% say their Thanksgiving would be spent mostly with Trump supporters.

It’s Thanksgiving celebrants who will be at a truly mixed gathering who seem most likely to experience a political argument. And 28% of people who say there will be an equal number of supporters of Trump and Biden at their Thanksgiving tables say a political argument is very or somewhat likely this year – compared to 11% for people celebrating mostly with Biden supporters, 11% for Trump-heavy tables, and 10% among all celebrants.

Inflation is both a potential topic of political discussion — more Republicans than Democrats call it their most important issue — and a factor in the cost of preparing the Thanksgiving meal. Inflation today is about half what it was a year ago. It remains Americans' most important issue. This year, more than one-third of those who celebrate Thanksgiving say price increases have affected their Thanksgiving plans, not much different from the 34% who said this last year when inflation was even higher. Last year, turkey prices were up 21% from the year before. This year prices are down 6% from last year’s.

Americans' perception of inflation is tied to their political preferences: Nearly half of those who voted for Trump in 2020 say price increases have affected their Thanksgiving plans, compared with 30% of Biden voters.

What are Americans eating for Thanksgiving? Majorities of those celebrating will be eating traditional fare such as turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, bread or rolls, pie, and gravy. More Republicans than Democrats are traditionalists when it comes to Thanksgiving food.

As for food controversies:

■ Americans prefer white meat turkey (43%) to dark meat (22%), while one in four like both types.

■ Stuffing should get cooked outside the turkey (32% prefer it this way) – not inside (20%) – though 31% say they like both ways equally.

■ Sweet potatoes with or without marshmallows? By the narrow margin of 34% to 26%, Americans prefer no marshmallows, though 14% like sweet potatoes both ways. That’s fewer than the 22% who don’t like them either way.

Cranberry sauce, another traditional holiday side dish, is particularly popular in the suburbs and with older Americans. Among Americans overall, canned cranberry sauce beats fresh-made 28% to 20%, with 21% liking both and 27% liking neither. Americans 45 and older are much more likely than younger adults to prefer canned cranberries. Younger adults are much less likely than older ones to like cranberries in either form.

— Carl Bialik contributed to this article

See the results for the YouGov survey on Thanksgiving conducted on November 7 - 9, 2023 among 1,000 U.S. adult citizens. See the toplines and crosstabs from the Economist/YouGov poll conducted on November 11 - 14, 2023 among 1,500 U.S. adult citizens.

Methodology: This article is based on two surveys: A YouGov poll conducted online from November 7 - 9, 2023, and an Economist / YouGov poll conducted online from November 11 - 14, 2023. For each poll, respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel using sample matching. A random sample (stratified by gender, age, race, education, geographic region, and voter registration) was selected from the 2019 American Community Survey. The sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, education, 2020 election turnout and presidential vote, baseline party identification, and current voter registration status. Demographic weighting targets come from the 2019 American Community Survey. Baseline party identification is the respondent’s most recent answer given prior to November 1, 2022, and is weighted to the estimated distribution at that time (33% Democratic, 31% Republican). The margin of error for the overall sample is approximately 3% for the Economist poll and 4% for the other poll.

Image: Getty (The Good Brigade)