I’m a little late to the thread, but it’s still open…
One of the things that seemed to appeal to this community ten years ago, and still seems to appeal to the community today, is the general respect for fact over opinion. It’s at the heart of sabermetrics, and plays a strong part in the lives and livelihoods of the analytical/techie/lawyer types who frequent the site. We all have opinions, and there’s no problem with hearing different ones, especially where facts are few. But facts and objectivity rule.
I’ve participated in the political threads, religion threads, and other off-topic threads, and on some level I like them because with this community there is much greater potential for rational discussion. Where I think threads start to break down and become counterproductive to the site are when commenters are unable to separate fact from opinion in their own comments. And this happens most often currently in political-themed and religion-themed threads. (And steroid threads in the past.)
Still, if that were the only problem, it would be a small problem. What exacerbates it is when the community-wide discussion becomes dominated essentially by a small number of people, many of whom mistakes their opinion for fact. What was, or could have been, a community-wide discussion becomes more like a limited-participation discussion with a large audience. When that happens it seems that the few participants could switch to e-mail if they wanted, but doing so would remove the audience - and I think that’s the main thing. It’s not that participants simply want to prove the others wrong, but that they want to do it in front of the audience. What reinforces this for me is how quickly the discussion dies down once it is moved to the forums. None of these people are so tech-unsavvy that they can’t handle the move, and if they are so motivated to continue the discussion it’s easy to do. But any time the discussion is moved the audience does not move with it. The participants eventually give up, and the discussion dies.
Maybe it’s not as grandstandy as that sounds; maybe each repeats their talking points simply because they don’t want their opponent to have the last word on the subject. Some folks post something like “well, so-and-so hasn’t responded to my points, so obviously he knows he’s wrong and just won’t admit it”, which baits the discussion to continue. OTOH, that’s pretty grandstandy in and of itself. The only reason to post that, or to post in response to that, is to frame the conclusion to the audience. If it’s for the sake of the few involved… there’s the e-mail button, use it.
I think the reason why people have problems with the political threads is the same problem they had with BetUS or whoever it was posting advertisements masquerading as “content” a few years ago. We are a community, not an audience. We come here to satisfy common interests, not to satisfy the vanities of a select few. To the extent the TOS can be written to discourage related behavior, and is enforced, we’re better off. To the extent that people can click to ignore threads - and even moreso if the refresh rate and/or post frequency for a thread is throttled the more people have it on ignore - all the better. I’m fine with the platform for political discussion existing, and even encouraged; but if the platform isn’t used in keeping with the community theme then the community and the admin should be able to minimize its impact.