*“There are people who abstain from voting due to the stress they experience when they’re inside a voting booth. If we’ll allow them to vote from home, we can help them exercise their democratic right,” said Dr. Israel Waismel-Manor from the School of Political Science at the University of Haifa who conducted the study*
Attention all presidential candidates: voting at a polling station is liable to be a stressful event, which can even cause changes in our hormonal indicators. This stress can, however, be reduced by voting from home – as suggested by a new study conducted jointly by researchers from the University of Haifa and the University of Nebraska, and which has recently been published in the journal PLOS ONE.
“There may be people who abstain from voting at polling stations because of the stress that voting in public causes them. For such individuals voting from home could be a solution that will allow them to exercise their democratic right,” said Dr. Israel Waismel-Manor from the School of Political Science at the University of Haifa who conducted the study.
A previous study conducted by Dr. Israel Waismel-Manor with Professor Hagit Cohen and Dr. Gal Ifergan, during the 2009 elections in Israel, found that voting is a stressful event that causes changes in the level of cortisol in the body – a hormone which is secreted during states of stress to help us deal with the situation. In the present study, led by Dr. Jayme Neiman and several colleagues from the University of Nebraska and the University of Haifa, the researchers sought to understand what causes this stress: Is it the sense of civic duty and the fate of the nation weighing heavily on the shoulders of voters? Is it the aspect of being present among strangers in a public place? Or is it a combination of these two components?
To answer this question, 137 Americans voters were recruited before the last presidential election in the United States and were randomly divided into three groups. One group voted at the polls at 7 p.m. The second group of volunteers voted a week earlier at exactly the same hour from their homes by mail. To ensure that the stress of voting itself would not affect the third group, they were instructed to vote during the morning hours and at 7 p.m. they were sent to a local mall and were asked to purchase an item from a number of alternatives, thereby simulating the process of selection. All participants were asked to provide saliva samples to test the level of cortisol half an hour before and half an hour after voting or shopping.
The researchers found that the levels of cortisol for the people who voted from home and for those who went to the mall did not change, while for those who went to vote at the polls at 7 p.m. there was a significant increase in cortisol. According Dr. Waismel-Manor, the findings indicate that the stressful element in voting at a polling station is not only the fact of being in a public place or making an important political decision, but rather the combination of these two factors is what makes the entire process stressful for voters.
“It is difficult to estimate how many voters we lose because of stress, but even if it is only a few percent, we should think of ways to allow them to participate. In the last elections in the United States, almost a quarter of those who voted did so by mail, and in places where such voting has been introduced, the proportion of voters has increased” concluded Dr. Waismel-Manor.