If the U.S. is not your home country you might be well advised to stay out of a political discussion, wherever you may be, until you are absolutely certain it is wise to do so.   It is no secret that American politics have been an explosive subject for years, and the issues are best approached with caution.  Be a kind guest, with the attitude of being a learner, rather than a policy maker. 

People throughout the world have been understandably interested in American presidential politics, perhaps even more so since the nomination and election of President Barack Obama.  If you do plan to get into a discussion on American politics when travelling there, it would be advantagous to do some research before you go, and know at least some of the positions of the different people you may meet.

Often, it is hard to get a truly balanced and fair view of both sides of the issues by simply listening to international news, no matter how good the coverage in your country may be. Reading articles from The New York Times,  The Los Angeles Times,The Miami Herald, The Wall Street Journal, Fox News and CNN are good places to start -- or just read articles on American politics from Google News (filter for those from American newspapers) as well as online magazines such as Time, U.S. News & World Report, Christianity Today and World Magazine, and by researching statistics online (government sources are generally the most reliable.) All this should give you a good range of both conservative and liberal views on American issues. Reading political opinion blogs and forums or watching cable TV pundits can be helpful to judge the political temperature of the moment, but should be viewed as just that -- opinion, not news. Editorializing and sensationalizing of political issues has become extremely popular in the past few years, and very profitable for the stations and pundits who create these shows and blogs. Do not get sucked in.

The United States is sensitive politically due to the  extreme polarization that has been wedged between the Republican and Democratic parties over the past decade, and a culture war that has been going on for almost thirty years, intensifying in the last fifteen. There is a vast range in how people live from region to region – rural/conservative vs. liberal/urban, immigrant vs. nativists, rich vs. poor, religious vs. secular. Today in America, many news stories relating to these cultural divides are provoking everyday citizens into big debates,  so visitors would be well advised to figure out when and where their opinions would be welcome...and where they are not.

Some areas -- particularly Texas, the South, and Midwest and some western rural areas -- are deeply religious. Some connect their religious beliefs to political ones, making issues such as abortion, the war in Iraq, capital punishment, or gay marriage impossible to debate. These issues are currently so contentious that nobody seems willing to change or even compromise their position, both on the streets and in political offices. When discussing these topics, bear in mind that some have lost their lives, loved ones, and livelihoods over these issues.

Remember that the culture and acceptance around discussing politics in your home country may be very different than it is in present day America, where polite conversation may not include topics such as politics or religion. America has a very diverse population, one of the most diverse in the world. There is another side to the coin with this fact, however: It is not always knowable, for example, how strongly a host at a dinner party or business lunch holds a belief and how vigorously he is willing to defend it. A general rule of thumb that is always good to follow: Wait until your opinion has been solicited before you offer it, and even then, you might want to temper your point of view until you understand what crowd you are having a conversation with.

Politically, this is a very important and increasingly turbulent time for America. The issues are diverse and ongoing, troubles regarding immigration, border security, credit crunch, and most of all, recession. Many people have lost their homes, and many people are terrified of losing their jobs.  Former homeowners - an honorable position to hold in America and one many strive to become - are now renters, and former renters are now living with relatives or on the streets. Men and women in their thirties and forties have an average of three children to support but face an economy that remains unstable.Younger persons in their twenties face a job market in which there are fewer jobs to attain, greater competition, a huge amount of college debt to pay back, and worst of all many have been forced to move back in with their parents: a condition that has not been known in this country since their grandparents were young, in the Great Depression of the 1930's. Nobody is certain of what is going to come out of the current political climate; only time will tell.

"Never Discuss Politics or Religion":  This is an ancient saying that will help you avoid getting into difficult or argumentative situations.  Another point to be aware of is that nowadays many Americans are not readily labeled with one overall political label for a variety of reasons.  One reason is that, in recent years, many more Americans self-desicribe themselves as "Independents", not formally affiliated with any major political party.  This includes being registered to vote in primaries and elections as "Independents" and not as Repbulicans or Democrats.