Is voting too stressful?

A US study hints that New Zealand’s strong voter turnout in national elections is because we handle stress better.

Work by University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO), the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) and Rice University, has shown that stress hormones are predictors of political participation.  Reports of the studies claim it shows tolerance of stress is a predictor of voter turn-out.

The study concluded that cortisol is related to a willingness to participate in politics – as it is with willingness to participate in most social engagements.

Researchers analysed the saliva of over 100 participants who identified themselves as highly conservative, highly liberal or disinterested in politics.  Cortisol was measured in saliva collected from the participants before and during activities designed to raise and lower stress.

“High-stress activities led to higher levels of cortisol production, but that political participation was significantly correlated with low baseline levels of cortisol,”

“Participation in another group-oriented activity, specifically religious participation, was not as strongly associated with cortisol levels. Involvement in nonvoting political activities, such as volunteering for a campaign, financial political contributions, or correspondence with elected officials, was not predicted by levels of stress hormones.”

It’s hard to believe the physical act of voting is intrinsically stressful. But maybe its the requirement to make a decision – and a decision on which much of the public debate seems to rest?

This was an American study, where less than 50% of the public vote in national elections. In New Zealand, between 70 and 90% of us do.

Do New Zealanders handle political stress better? Is our approach to election day less dramatic? Or are we more relaxed about the outcome?

One thing on which we are certainly now clear from these sorts of studies; the old-school assumptions about voters are wrong – socioeconomic status has far less impact on voting or political leanings than biology.

We are in fascinating new territory for political strategy.

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