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If you begin engaging with conservatives with the expectation that they fit a negative stereotype, you likely won’t get the positive results you seek. Pixabay

If you engage in enough respectful dialogues with average Americans from the opposite end of the political spectrum, you will notice three things: they are a diverse group, they seem to live in a different reality than you and they have some very good points for someone who lives in their reality. Once you realize that what your political opponent is saying makes perfect sense to someone with their personal experiences and ideas about the proper role and abilities of government, you then learn how to discuss politics with them without it degenerating into the childish name-calling we hear from the professional pundits these days.

We’re not all Trump supporters. Some of us cringe just as often as liberals every time he Tweets — or speaks. Some of us are embarrassed by him too. We see him as the better of two bad choices: an embarrassing amateur politician that will ensure a halt to liberal policies, or a tactful, professional politician whose policies are often contrary to our own. We voted for Trump for pragmatic reasons, not because we like him as a person. Attacking Trump won’t convert many conservatives to a liberal cause.

I, an American conservative, have engaged in respectful dialogues with liberals online for several years now. There are a few things many conservatives wish liberals understood as we head into the 2018 midterm election cycle.

Many liberals speak to conservatives as if a more liberal federal government is going to happen sooner or later, and conservatives will be “on the wrong side of history” when all is said and done. It’s not just arrogant and condescending, but wrong. Liberals would get a lot less resistance if they focused on changes at the state level. Those pesky “red states” that liberals see as anchors to the inevitable liberal American society of the future? They can be easily bypassed by focusing on state-level politics. Liberals often point out that The Affordable Care Act was based on Romneycare in Massachusetts. That’s true. Most conservatives would offer little resistance to state-level policies like mandatory health insurance. It’s when the policies get taken to the federal level that the “red state anchors” drop.

Liberals need conservative voters to come to their side more than conservatives need to flip liberal voters. The kinds of policy changes liberals want will require majorities in the House and Senate. Not just Democrat majorities, but liberal majorities. Not all Democrats are liberals. Liberals have a basic demographic problem when it comes to getting control of the Senate: Too many liberals are stacked into too few major cities. Unless you can convince millions of coastal liberals to move to those sparsely-populated, solidly conservative fly-over states, the senators from those areas will never be on your side. It is easier, even practical, for conservatives to write-off states like California and New York. They can concede those four senate seats without worry. Liberals, on the other hand, can’t concede all of those red states in the middle of the map. They have to convince some of those conservative voters to vote for a liberal for a change.

We conservatives expect to be labeled as racists or sexists by liberal politicians and the liberal elite. We don’t care what they say about us; they’re never going to be on our side anyway. When a regular liberal uses these insults, the dialogue is effectively over for many conservatives. It’s pointless to try and defend that accusation once someone has said it to you; their mind is made up, and it’s an attempt to shut down their opponent. Similarly, a liberal should not expect any meaningful dialogue from anyone who calls them a “snowflake.” That person is unreachable. Feel free to engage with them, but don’t expect any conversions.

For many of us, we needn’t look any further than our own houses to see that there is no conservative “war on women,” as liberals like to claim. The women in our lives have had every single opportunity that the men have had. We’ve had female bosses, and no, it didn’t bother us. We didn’t feel emasculated. We know women who make more than us. Are there cases where women have been discriminated against and make less than their male counterparts because they are women? Sure, if you look hard enough, you can find almost any story to demonstrate any point. All that does is provide an example of the exception, not the rule. When it comes to things like birth control, not using taxpayer money to fund something is not the same as not allowing people to use it. Very few conservatives are against legal contraception. The argument is usually about funding, not legality. Many liberals know this, but that doesn’t push their “war on women” rhetoric as well as just claiming that conservatives want to deny a woman access to contraception.

Additionally, we aren’t “voting against our best interests,” we’re just not interested in the same things as you. Saying that someone is “voting against their best interests” is a really condescending way of saying that you know what people are interested in, and how best to make it happen for them. It’s a variation of “I know you better than you know yourself,” a popular saying from parents to their children. If what you’re saying sounds like something a parent would say to a child, don’t expect the person you’re saying it to to be swayed by it, unless they are, in fact, your child. A better way to phrase this would be: “Have you considered how implementing this policy would affect your personal situation?”

Just like liberals, conservatives are a diverse group. If you begin engaging with conservatives with the expectation that they fit a negative stereotype, you likely won’t get the positive results you seek. Most conservatives I’ve met are perfectly willing to engage in respectful political dialogue with liberals. It’s the stereotypes from both sides that usually derail the conversations.

Matthew Bates is a political blogger and co-author of Let's Talk Politics: How Different Sides Approach the Same Issues.