PLOS One conducted a survey to determine how Americans are faring in a divided political climate and found that nearly one third said cable news political reporting is driving them “crazy,” and the author of the report said he believes the results could pose a “public health crisis.”
It isn’t a stretch to assume that at some point all of that polarization would have a negative effect on the collective well being of the nation, and a new study conducted at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln has effectively confirmed this assumption. According to researchers, the current U.S. political climate is literally making Americans physically sick, damaging friendships, and driving many people “crazy.”
In March of 2017 researchers surveyed 800 Americans, selected from a pool of 1.8 million in order to create representative samples of the U.S. population. Almost 40 percent admitted that politics is stressing them out, and one in five even said they are losing sleep over U.S. politics.
Kevin Smith, comments study leader and political scientist said in an article about the survey:
It became apparent, especially during the 2016 electoral season, that this was a polarized nation, and it was getting even more politically polarized. The cost of that polarization to individuals had not fully been accounted for by social scientists or, indeed, health researchers.
“Smith even described the study’s findings as akin to a public health crisis,” StudyFinds.org reported.
The study is being described as one of the first to “comprehensively” report on this topic. Smith said:
Quite a few of the numbers jumped out at me. Twenty percent have damaged friendships because of political disagreements. One in five report fatigue. And it’s a small (proportion), but 4 percent of the people in our sample said they’ve had suicidal thoughts because of politics. That translates into 10 million adults.
The respondents to the survey were asked 32 questions across four categories — physical health, regretted behavior, social or lifestyle costs, and mental health.
Some other findings include:
- 11.5 percent said that politics had adversely impacted their physical health, while 31.8 percent said that being exposed to content on news channels that they disagree with it is driving them “crazy.”
- 29.3 percent said they even had lost their temper over politics.
- 22.1 percent said they “care too much” about who wins and loses elections.
“Politics is really negatively affecting a lot of people’s lives, or at least, they’re perceiving that politics is really negatively affecting their lives in deep and meaningful ways,” Smith said. “Stress is a real phenomenon that can have disastrous health effects.”
“If politics is a significant contributor to the levels of stress that American adults are experiencing, then yeah, it makes sense that there’s a real add-on health effect from that,” Smith said.
The explanation about the study says, in part, that Trump’s election is responsible for some of the distress over politics in the country:
The few clinical studies on the health impacts of politics that do exist suggest such effects may be all too real. The polarizing presidential election of 2016 appears to have triggered clinical levels of distress in at least one college population, and may even be linked to death rate fluctuations in some geographic areas. More anecdotally, in the wake of the 2016 election, clinical psychologists reported a jump in mental health pathologies directly attributed to politics—what the media have termed “election stress disorder.”
In short, there is clearly an empirical basis for the hypothesis that politics, especially the divisive sort of politics characterizing the contemporary civic sphere in the United States, negatively affects social, psychological, and even physical health.
“It’s worth noting that respondents who identified themselves as more liberal than conservative displayed higher stress levels,” StudyFinds.org reported. “Smith believes this is likely due to Donald Trump’s current term as president.”
“One of the things that we’re really interested in is: What happens if a very left-leaning person is elected into the White House?” Smith said. “Do the symptoms stay the same but shift across the ideological spectrum?”
The methodology for the study was as follows: Data were collected by YouGov from March 15 to March 20, 2017. YouGov uses an online panel of approximately 1.8 million US respondents to create representative samples. Our sample was specifically matched to a 2010 American Community Survey (ACS) sampling frame on gender, age, race, education, party identification and political interest. The total N is 800, large enough to detect effects of r = .10 with 80 percent power (sample size required for r = .10, alpha = .05, and beta = .20, is N = 783). This study was approved by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Institutional Review Board (Project ID: 52013).
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