The Differential Effects of Stress on Voter Turnout
Forthcoming, Political Psychology
42 Pages Posted: 31 Jan 2016 Last revised: 30 Jun 2016
Date Written: 2013
Individuals in society deal with stressful situations on a daily basis. Just as people cope in different ways when confronted with stress in their daily lives, we argue that individuals respond politically in different ways when confronted with stressful life experiences. We argue that stressful situations affect the decisions of individuals to participate in politics differently on the basis of past political involvement. For individuals familiar with and engaged in the political process the act of political engagement serves as an effective problem-focused mechanism for coping with stress. Individuals who are not routinely involved in the electoral process are less likely to recognize connections between life-stress and the political process and are more likely to disengage from politics when confronted with stress in their lives. To test the differential effects of stress on the likelihood of political involvement we fielded an experiment embedded in a survey in the week immediately prior to the 2012 presidential election. Our findings confirm that individuals who have a history of past participation in politics and who are exposed to stress-inducing stimuli related to their daily lives are significantly more likely to indicate that they will vote. In contrast, individuals exposed to the same stress-inducing stimuli without a history of past participation in politics are less likely to turn out to vote than similar individuals who are not exposed to the stimuli.
Keywords: Voting, Stress
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