Political polarization is making us sick

Published: Oct. 13, 2020 at 6:01 PM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - If you’re stressed out over the upcoming election, you’re not alone. Research at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln suggests political polarization is making us sick.

Americans are angry and taking sides…about masks, opening businesses…even whether the coronavirus is dangerous.

“I don’t think anyone could have forecast an event where effectively a virus becomes politicized," said University of Nebraska-Lincoln political scientist Kevin Smith.

Smith plans to follow up on a study that suggests politics is making us sick. Americans surveyed following the last presidential election said they were depressed and stressed out. They lost sleep, spent too much time on social media…and even considered harming themselves.

“Astonishing numbers of American adults say politics is negatively affecting their social, psychological, emotional, and even physical health,” said Smith.

Why are we so polarized? Smith said genetics helps nudge us one way or the other.

“And if you’re in an environment where a lot of the stimuli and a lot of the messages are playing on people’s innate predispositions to move in polarized directions, you know what, you’re gonna end up with a polarized society. And I think that’s exactly where we are right now,” said Smith.

Environmental factors contribute to a voter’s tendency to dig in.

Smith added, "We have the rise of social media, we have the collapse of traditional gatekeepers. You know, people can live in their own echo chambers, we essentially live in an environment where if you have a predisposition to move strong one way on a political issue, I mean, this is an environment that is like tailor made for that.”

Smith will go back into the field in the weeks before and after the upcoming election to see if there’s been any change in the last four years.

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