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A divided family finds common ground around the Thanksgiving table

Families and states may be divided by party or tribe, but many of those in the middle find they share similar goals.

MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. — The Cinganos may be a politically divided family — like the state of Michigan itself, or for that matter much of the upper Midwest — but they were determined not to divide this year’s Thanksgiving table between armed camps.

“We could have been that family where we didn’t talk because of our opposing views,” said Tammy Cingano, 53, a physician’s assistant who described herself as progressive and active in local Democratic politics. “My brother and I have gotten into really heated arguments where we’ve had to step away from each other and go to your corners kind of thing. But in the end, we choose not to be that family, we choose to not attack each other.”

There remain widespread political differences in the region, but data suggests that fear of Thanksgiving food fights may be overblown, even though people on the fringes may sound louder.

The NBC News exit poll on Election Day showed that a plurality of Michigan voters, 39 percent, identified as moderates, compared to conservatives at 34 percent and liberals at 27 percent. The share of moderate voters was even higher in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

And there is much to bring the two sides together. Overall, more than 44 percent of the voters in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin ranked healthcare as the most important issue, and a plurality of voters in Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin said Trump was not a factor in their vote.

“There has to be a change because it can’t be all this hate anymore. There’s a boatload of Trump haters and Republican haters,” explained Tammy’s brother Derek, 51, a retired veteran who voted for Trump in 2016 and Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, earlier this month. “I’m a Republican. It was the only Democrat vote I cast.”

Whitmer garnered 2.1 million votes in a state Trump won in 2016 by one percent. She promised to fight divisiveness during her victory speech. “In Michigan we want to build bridges,” she said. “We choose bridges over walls.”

Nationally, Democrats have so far picked up a net of 38 seats in the House of Representatives, bringing their tally to 234 and retaking control of the lower chamber. Republicans on the other hand stood their ground on the Senate, holding on to 52 seats with one contest in Mississippi yet to be determined.

“The majority of families I deal with on the road are low-income African Americans that live in a blue state…We definitely talk about life, crime and healthcare,” said the youngest sibling David Cingano, 49, who customizes wheelchairs for people with disabilities, and describes himself as very independent. “Until I feel confident in a candidate and their views, I will stay on the sidelines.”

Despite drastically opposing views, the Ciganos actually all belong to the roughly two-thirds of Americans who don’t identify with political extremes.

“There’s too much disrespect. It’s across the board,” Tammy Cingano said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re Republican or Democrat, if you’re independent, Green Party…people need to be respectful.”

As a recent report from the non-profit group More In Common showed, a sense of belonging to a political tribe is often a greater factor in divisiveness than ideology. More than polarization, it is tribalism that is at play. Those on the far left represent 8 percent of the U.S., compared to 6 percent on the far right. Most Americans actually share more common ground than fights on Facebook might suggest, including support for stricter gun laws, a belief that racism is a still a problem, and a sense that the immigration system is completely broken, even if they disagree on how to solve it.

Most of the Cinganos reside in Isabella County, which swung from Obama over Romney in 2012 to Trump over Clinton in 2016.

“America was built on opposing ideas,” said Toni Sessions, who is married to Tammy. “It’s actually compromise.”

And as Tammy responded: “We’ve been family a whole lot longer than Trump’s been in office... and pretty much that trumps everything else.”