Why aren’t more people showing up to vote in elections? Perhaps they’re too stressed out. Seriously: new research has found that citizens who are most prone to anxiety are more likely to skip the polls.
The study specifically looked at cortisol, a stress hormone in the human body. Head researcher Jeffrey French explained the significance: “Our study is unique in that it is the first to examine whether differences in physiology may be causally related to differences in political activity.”
Normally, cortisol increases in the body during stressful situations. However, certain individuals have naturally occurring heightened levels of cortisol, generally indicating that they are more anxious people overall. The research confirmed that people with higher base levels of cortisol had significantly spottier voting records than those with less present in their systems. Even after factoring in differences like party affiliation, age, income, ethnicity, etc., high levels of cortisol seemed to make a significant difference throughout these demographics.
While the researchers acknowledge that stress is hardly a major factor in determining whether someone will wind up voting, it still plays a measurable role. Besides, as they point out, given America’s consistently low voter turnouts, it’s important to discover all of the many reasons that people aren’t showing up at the polls so that they can be addressed.
It’s a shame that those who deal with more stress — either physiologically or through life circumstances like poverty — are dissuaded from hitting the polls. Their nonparticipation is somewhat shortsighted because having political leaders that will better represent their own interests could help to cut down on their anxiety and problems in the long run, but some people’s more pressing matters get in the way.
Political analysts worry that this information could only help to spread the practice of voter suppression. When people hear about efforts that could stop them from voting, the ensuing thoughts of stress is all it takes for some people to not even bother trying. In other words, just the suggestion of voter suppression might be enough to help keep down the vote.
Of course, efforts could be made to assist stressed out people to make it to the polls, as well. Realizing that registered voters might feel too anxious on a particular day to go vote, people can arrange rides to the polls or sign them up for vote-by-mail or absentee voting in advance in order to circumnavigate potential stress that may occur on Election Day.