In the United States this past year, we have all individually experienced the ups and downs of the nightmarish political campaign that was Hillary Clinton vs. Donald Trump. Some felt strongly about one candidate, and some felt that neither candidate was a good option leaving them as a swing vote. However, no matter what you believe, there was no escaping the bombardment of negativity and division on a daily basis. We can all sense that elections and particularly Election Day is a stressful event, but what is it actually doing to us? How is it affecting our psychological and medical health?
Trawalter and colleagues (2011) investigated changes in cortisol and testosterone during the 2008 election, and the role that social dominance orientation played in understanding changes in diurnal rhythms. Social dominance orientation refers to how strongly an individual believes in a social hierarchical system (i.e. highest in the hierarchy could be a white male with a powerful position in the top 1% of earners). As you might recall, 2008 was a historic election in that Barack Obama became the first Black individual to ever become a United States president. For individuals that were high in SDO (who were more often Republicans), this could raise serious concern, and not conform to their typical learned ideas of hierarchy (Trawalter et al., 2011). Interestingly, regardless of whether individuals were high or low in SDO, everyone experienced stunted cortisol and testosterone rhythms. These stunted rhythms have been a result of anticipating the election, and could be the body’s way of not providing a cortisol or testosterone response until it is known what is needed (Trawalter et al., 2011). Additionally, the day after the election and President Barack Obama’s win, individuals with high SDO experienced a boost in cortisol, perhaps as a physiological response to the defeat of the election.
A question I had when reading this article was related to the authors’ inclusion of the fact that it is very possible that those who reported high SDO were also Democratic supporters. The authors highlight that many of the Democratic party’s ideals fall in line for those low in SDO, but why would an individual with high SDO be a Democrat? Possible ideas that came to mind were that an individual with high SDO could feel particularly strong about a specific issue, and happen to have a liberal view for that one issue. Perhaps that would lead to a Democratic vote. Or perhaps, an individual with high SDO could be surrounded by other Democratic individuals who influence their thinking or are not open minded to the individual’s perspectives. Therefore, the high SDO individual could also declare that they are voting for the Democratic candidate. This is certainly conceivable in a highly liberal environment like Boston.
Majumder and colleagues (2017) examined stress and anxiety levels pre- and post-2016 elections. Of course, the 2016 election was one like never before. Issues were not only of a political nature, but also quite personal. Donald Trump made several degrading and disturbing comments relating to women, non-white individuals and communities, and even individuals with disabilities. Majumder et al. found that women experienced higher stress levels than men before and after the election. If this were another election cycle, the result might be somewhat surprising, and would warrant further exploration. However, it seems quite evident that in this particular election, we would expect women to experience more stress. After all, it was not only that Donald Trump made degrading comments and got away with it to hold the highest office in the world, but that he defeated a woman who had much higher qualifications than he did. Although I cannot speak for all women, to this woman, it was the greatest collective symbol of gender inequality that this nation has seen.