In Partisan 2019, Even Listing 'Moderate' Can Hurt You On Dating Apps

Does listing your views as "moderate" hurt your chances of hooking up? (Photo: Illustration By Isabella Carapella/HuffPost)

It’s almost become a coastal cliche at this point: If someone lists their political views as “moderate” on a dating app, the thinking goes, go ahead and assume the person is a conservative.

The belief has caught on in the relatively liberal circles of Raleigh, North Carolina, too ― or at least the ones Michael D., a 31-year-old librarian, runs in. 

“When I see someone who has listed ‘moderate’ or ‘centrist’ as their political leaning on a dating app, I just assume that they’re too embarrassed to put Republican or right-wing,” said Michael, who, like others in this story, choose to use his first name only to protect his privacy.

“The other thing I assume is that they lead such an insular life that they’re somehow unaware of the current state of our country,” he told HuffPost. “How could anyone realistically be a moderate or centrist given the current state we’re in?”

In 2018, single young Trump staffers complained they couldn’t get a date in left-leaning D.C. In 2019, even moderates seem to face a tough crowd in the dating pool.

The high skepticism about moderates actually being moderate might have something to do with how many of the apps are set up. Bumble, for instance, allows users a full list of filterable options, from height and astrological sign, to political leanings: A liberal can filter out conservatives and vice versa. But if you list yourself as a moderate, you might sneak past the filters. 

In the Trump era, it can feel like hyperpartisan political views are the norm, but the online dating pool suggests otherwise: About one-third of global Bumble users who display their political affiliations list “moderate,” said Emily Wright, an associate PR director at Bumble.

If some of them were really thirsty liberals or conservatives “moderating” themselves in order to increase their matches, it wouldn’t be surprising, said Skyler Wang, a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at UC Berkeley who studies online dating.

“This happens offline, too,” Wang told HuffPost. “Most people, particularly in fresh romantic encounters, prefer to find commonalities with their new partners rather than focusing on the inherent distance between two strangers. It’s all part and parcel of modern day romance and courtship.”

Faux moderates wouldn’t have the wrong idea, either. In general, liberals and conservatives like to stick together, Wang said. (Look no further than Trump Dating and TrumpSingles, two dating sites that cater exclusively to fans of 45.) 

“There is good evidence suggesting that ‘political homophily’ exists in online dating: that is, people prefer to engage with those who share their own political views,” he said. “You’d think moderates might have the advantage of being able to straddle both worlds and strategically leverage certain aspects of their identity to draw themselves closer to a match.” 

You’d think, but for hyperpartisans on both sides, moderates have always been a troubling purple stain on what they see as our country’s otherwise perfect ideological divide. “Purple Is the Worst Color in Today’s Politics,” a headline for an essay that ran in the American Conservative in 2014 proclaimed. “Moderate Democrats’ Delusions of ‘Prudence’ Will Kill Us All,” an even more dramatic headline from a New York Magazine story on climate change read this May.  

Given the trumped-up language on both sides, it’s no wonder that political ideologies play a part when people decide who they want to boink. (Or marry, if they’re more of the Hinge type.) These days, single millennials say they’d prefer to date someone with compatible politics than someone they have great sex with, according to a recent OkCupid survey.

And while that all might sound a bit judgy, political likemindedness has been shown to be good indicator of compatibility, said Neil Malhotra, a professor of political science at Stanford University who studies how political similarity impacts relationships.

“We’ve found that shared partisanship and political ideology predicts matching on the website, and the effects are comparable to those of shared education, which has long been known to be a major factor in partner selection,” he told HuffPost. 

Lifestyle cues matter, Wang said. “People assume a form of consistency — if you are liberal, you must also do and believe in a, b, and c,” he said. “That means what we wear, eat, listen to, buy and consume can all be reflective of our political views.”

There’s the obvious political signaling you see while swiping: People who say they’re “still with her” in their bio and the legions who write “if you voted for Trump, swipe left.” But even if the person doesn’t clearly list their politics, there’s plenty of visual cues to read into: A social conservative is likely to be wary of a woman who includes a photo of herself in a pink pussy hat ― and maybe even someone who went to a stereotypically liberal college, like Sarah Lawrence College. Listing your preferred gender pronouns (she/her/hers) is an obvious tell, too. 

If a staunch liberal comes across someone who has included gun-toting, Don Jr.-esque hunting pics (or any photo with a lifted or modified truck, let’s be honest) they’re going to assume some things, too. In the “school” section, going to a religious college like Brigham Young University suggests a lot.

There’s no such visual cues for centrists, but for some, simply seeing “moderate” listed in that allotted space on an app is enough to raise some red flags. (Or rather, a highly suspicious purple-hued flag.)

Eliza B., a 25-year-old nursing student who lives in Philadelphia but is originally from San Francisco, is loud and proud about her left-leaning political views on her dating profile. In the swing state of Pennsylvania, moderates are everywhere on dating apps. 

Eliza tries to give them a fair shake, looking for context clues to determine if they’re an “I voted for Trump” moderate or just a “I’m fiscally conservative and don’t care about social issues” moderate. But more often than not, she swipes left, even if she knows it’s a little unfair. 

“It’s just in my experience, even ‘moderate’ guys tend to have extremely different views on topics that matter to me, like gun control, women’s reproductive rights and immigration,” she said. 

For Eliza, “fiscally conservative, socially liberal” centrist isn’t much sexier than plain old conservative. Actually, she thinks the combination is politically impossible. 

“Policies that are fiscally conservative tend to be socially conservative in nature,” she said. “[A] tax decrease means budget cuts in areas like public education and health care, for instance.” 

Sometimes, someone who seems like a good fit ― he has a photo at the Women’s March or says he’s voting for Elizabeth Warren ― turns out to be a dude who’s faux woke. That’s what happened to May W., a 34-year-old bisexual from California.

“I think some of these guys think sex with a liberal will be hotter,” she said. “I was dating a guy for about a month when he slowly started to drop his facade. Originally, he claimed to be liberal, then he let it ‘slip’ by calling Obama a racial epithet. Guess who didn’t get laid by ‘a wild libtard’ that night?”

Republicans we spoke to were a little less wary of moderates. If a prospective match is a closet conservative, that’s just an added bonus, said Steve L., a 21-year-old student from New York who listed himself as conservative when he was on dating apps. 

Most of the women he’s dated have been left-of-center, anyway. 

“My most recent girlfriend was actually a somewhere between liberal-and-moderate type that I met on Bumble,” he said. “I think people care more about this stuff on dating apps than they do in real life.”

“On a dating profile, when you see ‘conservative’ or ‘liberal,’ that becomes the superordinate category that they’re defined as, whereas in real life it’s like, ‘That’s Jonah, he’s a Democrat but I know him and he’s cool,’” he said. 

While that sounds entirely reasonable, Steven is a straight white male. For many women and nonconforming folks, giving a close read of a profile to make sure a potential date will be welcoming or safe is almost imperative.

And for many in the LGBTQ+ community, falling for someone who’s conservative or holds even center-right views seems diametrically opposed to their lifestyle.

So does all this mean moderates aren’t getting any? 

It sure seems hard out there for a single moderate looking to get laid or coupled up. But moderates we spoke to seem to be doing all right for for themselves. (We also asked them to share their genuine political views, to see if the “moderate = conservative” idea holds any weight.)

Whether or not you get lucky depends a lot on geography, though. 

In Chicago, you’ll get bemused reactions to centrist views, said Phil, a 30-something who lists “moderate” but who’s actually more of a “left-leaning libertarian with a touch of Green.”

“On dates, I’ve gotten confusion, acceptance, amusement, disgust, deep thought,” he said. “One woman I dated did think it was disgusting that I had shared anti-Hillary jokes and memes on Facebook during the 2016 primary. I supported Bernie, then Jill Stein.”

In the Big Apple, Cassie, a 50-year-old left-leaning moderate, hasn’t had any objections on her views from liberal dates. Conservatives are another story. 

“I have had some heated discussions over the wall,” she said. “Many guys have said they’re for it and want to keep the ‘illegals out.’ There have been some curse words uttered.”

Overall, liberals or conservatives not liking her views are the least of Cassie’s problems.

“There’s just a general shortage of men here — not liberal men,” she joked. 

Andrew Dalton, a 35-year-old musician from Austin, Texas, isn’t rattled by any negative views of moderatism on the apps. (He considers himself more of an independent, but “moderate” is the closest option available on the drop-down menu.)

If someone swipes left on him based on his views, it’s equally helpful to him, since he can’t really see himself with a hardcore leftist or conservative. 

“I typically only date women who aren’t extreme on either spectrum, so the reactions have never been adverse in any way,” he said. “Luckily, the face-to-face reality of dating seems to be more chill than anything online.” (It doesn’t hurt that he’s a musician in progressive, hipster Austin. That kind of overrides everything, he joked.)

Listing “moderate,” then, may be a safer bet than Twitter would have you believe. One thing everyone in this story could agree on? Saying you’re “apolitical” is a very, very bad idea; nothing kills the vibe quite like political indifference.

“That’s definitely true in the Bay Area,” Wang said. “Here, listing ‘apolitical’ carries a big cost, insofar as holding no political view signals a kind of intellectual or civic laziness that could turn a lot of people off.” (Come on, tech bros, can’t you at least just say you’re a live-and-let-live economic libertarian or #YangGang?)

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