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“For conservatives, by conservatives”: the rise of right-wing dating apps

Citing “discrimination” on Tinder and Bumble, right-wingers are founding dating apps of their own.

If you’re a young Republican looking for love, there are plenty of swipe-based options at your disposal. There’s Tinder, of course, and a spate of other apps like Bumble, Hinge, and OkCupid, as well as members-only platforms like Raya and the League. But some right-leaning folks say they’ve struck out on these platforms because would-be matches don’t agree with their politics — “Trump supporters swipe left” is a common refrain.

In recent years, a crop of conservative dating startups have launched in response to this phenomenon, all with one purpose: giving right-wingers a safe space to find love. Some, like Righter and Conservatives Only, are only for, well, conservatives. Others, like Donald Daters — tagline: Make America Date Again — claim they’re open to people of all political stripes who are interested in dating Republicans.

It makes sense to structure dating apps around common values, which are perhaps becoming more clear in the Trump era; for example, Bumble recently introduced a “filtering” feature that lets people weed out matches who don’t meet their political, astrological, or lifestyle preferences. But some of the people behind these conservative apps think liberals who refuse to date conservatives are doing something more destructive than looking for partners who share their values. To them, it amounts to anti-conservative discrimination.

The rise of right-wing dating apps

Emily Moreno, the founder of Donald Daters, told me she once had a date walk out on her “before the drinks had even arrived” after she said she had worked on a Republican Senate campaign — and that was before Trump got elected.

“I continue to hear these stories from my friends about how when they’re on these standard dating apps, they’re always told they won’t get a first date. It’s right there in the bio,” she said, referring to the seemingly ubiquitous “Trump supporters swipe left.”

“The people that do get a first date either don’t get a second date or they have to self-censor,” she continued. “I think it’s very telling about where we are right now, and it’s sad that politics has become entrenched in our dating lives.”

Moreno isn’t the first person to say she’s had a date go sour after she mentioned being a Republican. Earlier this year, Politico magazine documented the dating trials of millennial Trump staffers, many of whom claimed that supporting the president makes them outcasts — even in Washington, DC.

A 2017 survey by OkCupid found that 74 percent of its users considered voting for Trump a deal breaker. That same year, a writer for the Federalist claimed that liberals’ “refusal to date conservatives is one reason we have Donald Trump,” which feels like a difficult thesis to prove.

For Moreno, this all amounts to anti-conservative discrimination, which she said has intensified under Trump. “There has been a much more vocal and robust — and at times, threatening — attack against people who support our president” than under past administrations, she said.

(In 2008, a black man who had volunteered on Barack Obama’s campaign was verbally harassed and physically assaulted for wearing an Obama shirt in Louisiana. Soon after Obama’s election, right-wing protesters across the country burned effigies of the first black president. Moreno said that any form of “damnation” against a president is “terrible,” but maintained that discrimination against Trump supporters is “unique” and unprecedented.)

Peter Hatemi, a political science professor at Pennsylvania State University, agreed with Moreno’s premise that people are increasingly averse to dating someone who doesn’t share their political views, and that this is partially because of a rise in polarization. But, he explained, that doesn’t quite amount to discrimination. “It’s self-selection. It’s based on really strong data that like seeks out like,” he explained. “But there’s no discrimination against conservatives [on mainstream dating apps]. There’s absolutely no structural discrimination that prevents conservatives from dating.”

“Rather than feeling sorry for my friends, I decided to go out and do something about it,” Moreno said. And thus, Donald Daters was born. The app launched in October and immediately made headlines, not for its premise but for exposing user information — including names, profile pictures, and, in some cases, private messages — in an open database. Moreno assured me the security problems have since been fixed, adding that she suspected the app had been hacked by “liberal aggressors.”

Users get 25 free swipes each day and have to pay for subsequent credits, which can be used to send messages and get more swipes. There are three subscription tiers: $9.99 per month for a year, $12.99 per month for six months, and $29.99 for a single month. Moreno declined to tell me how many users the app currently has — “I don’t have the exact number on me” — but said that the app was downloaded more than 20,000 times in the first few weeks after launch.

Platforms like Donald Daters make sense in coastal cities like New York and Los Angeles, where a majority of voters lean blue and where, as a result, conservatives may feel alienated. But when I downloaded the app to see if there were any right-leaning singles in my area, I found that most of the people who showed up in the “activity feed” lived hundreds of miles away.

It’s possible that Donald Daters’ potential user base has instead flocked to one of the other right-wing dating apps, of which there are several. Conservatives Only, one of the more established platforms, launched during the Obama administration. Then came TrumpSingles, which was released just a few months before the 2016 presidential election and which, according to founder David Goss, gained more than 52,000 members after Trump was inaugurated. Patrio, a platform for “conservative, patriotic singles,” has been around since 2017. And Righter, the newest of the bunch, was released in December.

Righter takes a different approach than Donald Daters, which Moreno told me is open to people of all political affiliations — even liberals. Righter is “for us, by us,” founder Christy Edwards Lawton told me. “Us,” of course, means conservatives.

More than ever, people want to find partners who share their values — including political affiliation

Lawton said she got the idea for Righter after meeting a “beautiful” woman at a Republican fundraiser in Manhattan whose politics interfered with her dating life.

“She flat-out told me she absolutely couldn’t get a date that was not [trying] to use her as arm candy or bed her,” Lawton said. “No one was interested in her personal politics. It wasn’t that she couldn’t get a date — she’s gorgeous. Of course men wanted her, but not men that shared her values.”

Before launching Righter, Lawton said, she and her team looked through Tinder profiles all over the country — “from the Rocky Mountain region to the West Coast all the way to the East Coast” — and saw the same thing in bios everywhere: “Trump voters swipe left.”

“After Trump was elected, it was interesting to see that the environment was so toxic,” Lawton, who previously worked as a matchmaker, told me. “I didn’t realize that was going to matriculate into the dating world.”

To some, the fact that members of the #resistance don’t want to date Trump supporters is indicative of the unprecedented, and possibly even dangerous, political polarization of the current political era. Pew’s 2014 political polarization survey found that 30 percent of conservatives said they’d be unhappy if a family member married a Democrat, and 23 percent of Democrats said they’d disapprove if a relative married a Republican.

Stephanie Coontz, a professor of history and family studies at Evergreen State College, told me this is a relatively recent development. “Back in the ’50s and ’60s, having different political party ideas was not a deal breaker at all in relationships,” she said. Coontz partially attributed this phenomenon to an increase in political polarization, but also explained how the concept of what a relationship should be — and what a potential partner should bring to the table — has changed over time.

“I think it’s always been the ideal to have somebody who shares your values. In colonial days, when marriage was the most important financial and work decision you would make in your life, those values tended to revolve around that. ‘Is this person a good worker? Will this person bring a good dowry?’” she said.

“Until the 1950s and even into the ’60s, the model of marriage was one of specialization. Women took care of not just the home, but also moral issues and religious issues.” The men, meanwhile, were the providers. Coontz told me that many of the people she interviewed for her 2011 book Strange Stirring, which examines the way marriage and relationships changed in the ’60s, told her they were “basically marrying a gender stereotype.”

“Several guys told me, ‘Well, I never talked politics with my wife. That was something I talked about with other guys because she didn’t understand what I was talking about, but she was such a good mom,’” Coontz said. “And then you’d have women who told me, ‘My husband doesn’t get me as a person, but he’s such a good father and such a good provider.’”

But then things changed. In the ’60s and ’70s, Coontz said, women began to gain the political, economic, and cultural capital to marry for love instead of — or in addition to — financial security. “Now we want an equal and passionate friendship, which means that we share skills, we no longer specialize, we both share the housework, the child rearing, the breadwinning; we share values and we share our leisure time,” she told me. Given all of this, it makes perfect sense that modern daters want to find partners whose political opinions align with their own.

On Patrio, another conservative dating app, users are encouraged to list not only their hobbies but also their political views and issues they care about, all of which are displayed as “badges” on their profile. This customizability is limited — users can only choose two hobbies and three causes from a pre-selected list (options include “MAGA,” “free market,” and “build the wall”). The only viable political views are “conservative,” “classical liberal,” “center right,” “libertarian,” and “other.”

Josh, a 29-year-old from New York who asked to be referred to by his first name, signed up for Patrio to find potential dates with similar interests and values. “There are certain issues that are very important to me, and I am able to add most of them to my profile,” he told me in an email. (Those issues, he said, include “blue lives matter, free speech, free markets, pro Israel, and Pro flag/anthem.”)

But he didn’t join Patrio because he felt discriminated against on Tinder or Bumble. “While I have encountered a few women who have put in their bios that if you are right leaning or if you support the president you will be blocked/unmatched, I haven’t seen enough to make it a material issue,” he said.

Scott, a Patrio user who asked to be referred to by a pseudonym, similarly said that not getting matches on more mainstream apps doesn’t amount to discrimination. “It’s not discrimination if the people just don’t like you,” he said, adding that he’d be open to dating non-conservative women. “I’m open to dating anyone as long as they are a rational human being. Helps if they’re cute, too.”

Righter, meanwhile, is built on the premise that conservatives should only date conservatives. “Being conservative is a core value; it’s a lifestyle choice,” Lawton told me. For her, conservatism is about more than politics — it’s a way of life. This mentality is clear on Righter, where men are encouraged to make the first move and pay for the first date.

“Men want to be men,” Lawton told me. “Men are so happy that they’ve found an app where the women will be women and the men get to be men. I’m not kidding you. I’m quoting the men.”

It makes sense that people want to find dates who share their values, whether that means voting for a certain political party or refusing to deviate from strict gender roles. Lawton was quick to point out that when it comes to dating, personal preferences don’t amount to discrimination. “I think people should date who they want to date. If you want to date a blonde, date a blonde. If you want to date a skinny person, date a skinny person. I don’t think that’s discrimination.”

Does Lawton expect conservatives to date liberals? No. Does she think liberals should be open to going on dates with conservatives, even if those dates don’t result in a “love match?” Yes.

“They’re the ones telling us how racist we are, and how shortsighted we are, and it’s like, really? I just feel like it’s very rude,” she told me.

That said, liberals aren’t welcome on her app. “This app is for conservatives by conservatives,” she said. Her message to anyone left of center is clear: “Get on a different app. Righter is not the app for you.”

Lawton understands why conservatives would want to date someone who shares their values — but she doesn’t seem to comprehend why liberals would want to do the same.

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