From political spats on Twitter to heated in-person debates, the hostile culture of politics is potentially hurting Americans’ physical and emotional well-being, according to a new study by University of Nebraska-Lincoln political science professors Kevin Smith and John Hibbing.
Smith and Hibbing created a survey in March 2017, administered to 800 people from the ages of 18-90, that was designed to figure out what Americans see as the social, psychological, emotional and physical costs they were experiencing due to politics, according to Smith.
“There’s a shockingly large number of American adults who see politics as taking a pretty significant toll on their … health,” Smith said about the results of the survey published in the scientific journal “PLOS One”.
Smith said questions ranged from, “Have you lost sleep because of politics?” to “Have you stressed out because of politics?” and “Have you had a damaged friendship because of politics?”
According to the survey, nearly 40% of respondents said politics stresses them out, roughly 20% said they’ve lost sleep, became fatigued or suffered depression because of politics, and 4% respondents said they had considered suicide because of politics. Smith said 25% of respondents said politics led them to hate another person.
According to Smith, the study was not designed to be diagnostic but to look at how Americans perceive the toll that politics is taking on their overall health and well-being.
Within the study, Smith and Hibbing did not find trends among racial, ethnic or gender lines, but rather age and political leanings were shown to have an effect on responses, according to Smith.
“Younger adults are more likely to report experiencing these costs,” Smith said. “And people on the political left, so people who self identified as liberal or Democrat, they were more likely to report experiencing these costs.”
At the time of the survey, politicians who leaned right held the majority of positions of power, so it makes sense that left-leaning people would be more inclined to feel the costs of politics on their well-being, Smith said.
“Politics is cyclical, and, sooner or later, there will be more left-leaning politicians in positions of power,” he said.
This is the first survey of its kind, according to Smith, and he would like to see other institutions in the United States and other countries take the foundation they have laid and gather more data to compare.
“Once that's done, we'll have a better handle on whether, you know, the cause that we see in our sample [is] just a product of a particular time at a particular place,” Smith said. “And whether this is something that's more generalizable or whether it's getting worse or getting better.”