The Nebraska-led study is the first to measure anxiety from a national election

LINCOLN, Neb.Nebraska today) – Researchers are beginning to better understand the toll of polarized politics on mental and physical health, and a new study suggests that Americans’ political anxiety is on the rise ahead of key elections.

Led by University of Nebraska-Lincoln political scientist Kevin Smith, with Aaron Weinschenk of the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and Kostas Panagopoulos of Northeastern University, the study is the first to examine the anxiety surrounding a specific political event — the 2020 presidential election — that is viewed by both parties as the most divisive in recent history.

Using a two-wave panel survey measuring political anxiety given two weeks before and two weeks after the 2020 election, the study found that Americans were more anxious before the election than researchers had predicted. . Furthermore, after the election, it was those who voted for Donald Trump, conservatives, and African Americans who reported the lowest levels of anxiety.

“We had a lot of political anxiety right before the election, and the election was an intervention to alleviate some of that anxiety — how much, we don’t know because of some of the craziness around the election,” said Smith, the chair and Olson professor of political science. “However, across the board, political anxiety has eased since the election, and in some groups has fallen surprisingly.

“One thing that really surprised us was that even before the election, African Americans were less concerned than their white counterparts.”

The most concerned group – before the election and after the election – were those most involved in or interested in politics. Their anxiety level increased after the election.

“While some of the results were surprising, you also saw results that were consistent with what you would expect,” Weinschenk said. “We found that people who were more engaged, or people who knew more about politics, were more worried after the election. You would expect because of the uncertainty right after the election and these are the people who are going to invest the most.”

The researchers note in the article that the 2020 election was normal. He broke many records. Voter turnout was the highest in the 21st century, with a record number of votes cast and the most expensive election in recorded history, surpassing the $6.6 billion spent on the race between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump. Voters were also in the midst of a pandemic emergency, and conspiracy theories about election fraud abounded.

Still, Smith said the study establishes a good method for researchers to measure political anxiety in the future.

“Our measure seems correct,” he said. “We’re looking at 2024 and hopefully we can repeat some of this to analyze some of these effects.”

Smith and Weinschenk also suggested that scholars could use these measures to look at the toll on mental health in state and local elections, which are becoming more expensive and polarized.

“Would an election in a Republican or Democratic state where the outcome is predetermined be more worrying than a battleground state where there’s a ton of money coming in from outside special interests and it’s dominating the news? period?” Smith said. “I don’t know, but it’s an important question because with state and local elections you go through that cycle every year.

“One of the things we hope is that other researchers will take this measure and use it in other studies.”

As with his previous research on the negative effects of politics on national morale, Smith said this test line is important for understanding how people engaged in a polarized political environment can damage their health with stress and anxiety, and what steps can be taken to take action. . to overcome these effects.

“In fact, politics can serve as a major source of stress—and especially anxiety—in a constant environment. And what do we do about it? Smith said. “There’s not a large group of us looking at this yet, but hopefully that number will grow.”

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