If you’ve ever had a family Thanksgiving turn nuclear after Aunt Helen decided to share her opinion on All Lives Matter during the dessert course, you know it can be extremely difficult to change your loved ones’ minds about deeply held political views. But talking about these subjects with close friends and family doesn’t always lead to slammed screen doors and smashed pie plates. Sometimes these relationships provide a way into perspective-shifting conversations that might otherwise be impossible.
“There is someone in your life that only you can get through to,” Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said in an Instagram Live after the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. “I need you to use your relationships to get through and check in on people and make sure they’re stepping up and doing the right thing, and they’re not staying home on Election Night, and they’re not giving their vote to Donald Trump.”
The Cut talked to seven people about how they got through to that person in their lives — from jaded nonvoters to disillusioned Republicans — and convinced them to cast their vote for Joe Biden this fall. As 15-year-old Claire said of getting her Republican grandma in Florida to vote for Biden, that personal closeness can make all the difference: “She said that she probably wouldn’t have listened to a random person’s opinion, but she knows me and she thinks that I wouldn’t tell her something that wasn’t true.”
Interviews have been edited for length and clarity, and names have been changed.
“I just started pleading with him, saying, ‘Texas is in play. The state is so close. And if the Republicans can lose Texas, maybe that’s a wake-up call for them to get their act together.’” — John, 58, Illinois
My dad used to be a Republican congressman. Our family always grew up pretty conservative, though it sure feels, as I get older, I’m becoming more liberal, especially with Trump in power. I think Trump is an absolute menace. There’s no way I would ever have voted for him. In 2016, I did a write-in for John Kasich, but this year I’m voting for Biden.
My brother’s a retired banker down in Dallas, and he’s ten years older than me. He’s a conservative Republican, he’s a loyal soldier for the party, but he also believes Trump is a moron. He knew he wasn’t gonna vote for Trump this time; he was planning to write in Reagan’s name. And I just started pleading with him, saying, “Texas is in play. The state is so close. And if the Republicans can lose Texas, maybe that’s a wake-up call for them to get their act together.” The Republicans are pulling out every dirty trick they can to suppress voting and try and save this guy’s bacon. And I said, “You can’t just vote for Reagan or Ross Perot and feel good about it.”
We talk probably three times a week on the phone, if not more. His wife is also a conservative Republican, and she can’t stand Trump, like me. She and I weren’t plotting together, but it was definitely a tag-team effort.
I think my brother’s a smart guy. He’s not a fan of Joe Biden [politically], but he believes he’s a decent human being and a good man. And I think he knows that the country’s in a bad place right now and we do have to put country over party.
“It started as a little bit of joking banter, like, ‘Vote for Biden and I’ll buy you this.’” — Greg, 20, Pennsylvania
I live in rural Pennsylvania. It’s very red, and I was a big Trump supporter in 2016 when I was in high school. As the years went on, I started to drift away, and I finally turned and got on the Bidenmobile in about September. COVID-19 was kind of the final straw for me. Other countries have beaten this back, and we’re climbing like crazy. I also personally feel like, as someone who studies climate change and someone who is LGBTQ, another four years with Donald Trump in the White House is not the best for a person like me. When I first supported Trump, I did not realize I was LGBTQ, and I wasn’t nearly as much of an environmentalist as I am now.
My boyfriend and I met in 2019 and started dating this spring. He had been a Trump supporter but was increasingly on the fence, and he was starting to show the early signs of getting annoyed with Trump’s rhetoric. Still, he said he wasn’t going to break his back going to the polls, but if he did manage to go, he was gonna vote Trump, just do a straight red ticket. And then that’s when I kind of threw a lot of persuasion at him.
It started as a little bit of joking banter, like, “Vote for Biden and I’ll buy you this.” And then eventually, I kind of got to him. I helped him realize that, of the two main options available, Biden was the lesser of two evils. I said, “Do you want to spend the next four years reading angry tweets and opening up Twitter and saying, ‘Oh, what did Trump do now?’” I think the first debate also really helped convince him because Trump spent the entire time attacking Joe Biden’s son and Joe Biden as a person, and I think he felt that Biden at least portrayed an ounce of professionalism that was desperately needed. He kind of just said, “Fine, finally I get it, I’ll do it.”
“It’s hard to convey to him how different this election is from any other during my lifetime, and he really doesn’t have the luxury of standing idly by, waiting for a better candidate.” — Jane, 44, Washington
My son is in the National Guard; he’s 21. He’s like a lot of people in that generation, where they think it doesn’t really matter. He’s pretty progressive, he supported Bernie, and none of his friends are voting, because they don’t like Biden either. But he’s been activated four times now during COVID, for protests in Seattle and for COVID relief, doing testing and food banks, and he’ll be activated for the election, for whatever may or may not happen. In encouraging him to vote, I said, “Remember, you’re also voting for your boss, because we also have a tight gubernatorial race.” I told him, you know, “If we get a conservative governor here, that guy is gonna activate you every time somebody breathes wrong.” He doesn’t want to be at those protests; if he had his way, he’d likely be on the other side of them.
I’ve voted in every election since I turned 18, but this is his first presidential election. It’s hard to convey to him how different this election is from any other during my lifetime, and he really doesn’t have the luxury of standing idly by, waiting for a better candidate. He got his ballot, and I was like, “Are you gonna fill it out?” I said, “You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do, but this is why I really want you to vote for Biden.” And he did it.
“I started explaining the protests and how police were targeting Black people, because I don’t think she really understood.” — Claire, 15, Massachusetts
My grandma lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. She has been a Republican pretty much her whole life, but she did not agree with what Trump was doing with COVID, because she’s older and she’s immunocompromised. I FaceTime her every Sunday for about an hour. A year ago, we didn’t really talk about politics. But in the past couple months, I’ve been trying to incorporate it a little bit more because I had a feeling that she wasn’t going to vote. I tried to show her that not everyone has benefited from Trump being president. For example, she is upper class, and my mom and dad and brother are not, and I kind of showed her that not taxing everyone equally is not effective. And she said she never thought about how taxing the upper class would be helpful to everybody else.
Especially with Black Lives Matter becoming bigger this year, I think she also realized that racism is a really big problem. Where she lives, it’s mostly white people, and she hasn’t lived with other minorities in a really long time. And I started explaining the protests and how police were targeting Black people, because I don’t think she really understood.
Recently, she told me that she was going to vote for Biden because she believes Trump is evil and it’s the right thing to do, not only thinking about herself but thinking about everybody. It was awesome.
Me and her have gotten really close. And I think that us being really close really helped me convince her, because she trusts me and respects my opinion. She said that she probably wouldn’t have listened to a random person’s opinion, but she knows me and she thinks that I wouldn’t tell her something that wasn’t true.
“I think he’s still begrudgingly doing it, and that doesn’t feel great, but I guess a win’s a win.” — Louise, 28, Texas
I tried to get my dad to vote blue in 2016. I don’t think that worked — he still hasn’t really said who he voted for, but I think he has pretty much always voted Republican. Since then, anytime I thought Trump did something dumb, I would try to start a conversation, and that didn’t really work. But as this election got closer, I was really trying to tell him about how important it would be for my future and potentially my kids’ future if I have kids. Millennials have this idea that it’s not ethical to necessarily bring kids into the world when there are politicians in office that don’t believe in climate change. He thought that idea was really out there, and he said he couldn’t believe I thought that way. He thought that’s kind of a crazy way to think about having kids, like it doesn’t really matter who’s in office, you’re gonna live your life. Marrying those things together, I think, was probably a new concept for him. He did definitely push back and say that’s not the way to think about having kids, and I said, “Well, that’s the way that I’m thinking about it, and you could help with this if you voted for Biden. That would be a step in the right direction.”
While he was never interested in talking about me having grandkids before, the past few years he has kind of been asking me what’s going on. Prior to that, I would have never thought that could be a way in. My mom sent me a photo of his completed ballot [for Biden]; he wouldn’t send it to me. I think he’s still begrudgingly doing it, and that doesn’t feel great, but I guess a win’s a win.
“Because I went to the effort to make it easier for her, she was motivated to follow through.” — Daniel, 54, Virginia
The majority of my family is completely out of touch with politics. They don’t understand how policies and the people we elect can affect their lives. They just tend to complain.
My sister hasn’t voted in over 30 years. She does watch TV, but because Trump has so dominated the airwaves, she’s just sick and tired of it. She was just frustrated by his childish behavior. And I said, “Let’s do something about it. You need to go vote.” And she’s like, “Dan, I haven’t voted in years, and I’m blind.” She actually went blind this past year because of diabetes, and she’s only gone blind in the last six or seven months so she’s still struggling with how to live this way. So I printed off the Missouri absentee ballot application and sent her hard copies of it, and I walked her through the ballot and explained how to get it submitted in Missouri and all that. And because I went to the effort to make it easier for her, she was motivated to follow through, but I did have to lead her every step of the way.
“I feel like you can convince the people that love you.” — Deb, 48, Virginia
Miranda and I have been friends since we were next-door neighbors in second grade. We can talk about anything without being judgmental. I’ve always called her my one Republican friend, and she’s always called me her tree-hugging friend. Politics was never a major topic of discussion for us. Of course, Trump has changed that.
I sort of explained to her what’s happening around the world and showed how fascism and authoritarianism are rising up everywhere, like Hungary, Poland, Brazil, Turkey, India, and I started naming off all the countries that have fallen to authoritarian regimes over the last decade and kind of brought it back home. One of my children has Jewish heritage, and one of my children has Muslim heritage and I sort of explained to her how terrified I am for them. We’re applying, through my husband, for Italian citizenship. That’s how scared we are. I think that sort of brought it home to a personal level.
I remember we were talking about race issues, and I tried to explain it very simply. I said, “Miranda, do you think that you would have the same life if you had been born to the same parents and lived in the same house next door to me and everything was the same except you were Black instead of white?” And I think she was able to realize that no, she wouldn’t have had the same life — like my parents back then wouldn’t have let me be friends with her. I come from a very racist family, and things wouldn’t have been the same.
I feel like if I were to go to a Trump supporter that I ran into who didn’t love me, it’s futile for me to waste my breath trying to convince them of anything. But Miranda knows me, and I feel like you can convince the people that love you. Really the only way I’ve been able to reach people is “If you believe this is happening, or if you believe it could be happening, and if you love me, don’t you care about what that’s gonna mean?” Because our family, I feel like, is in a particularly vulnerable spot. That’s how I got through to her.