Negative Political Campaigns and Anxiety

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • We are in the throes of yet another extremely negative political cycle. The Presidential election is in full swing and once the Republican Party chooses a candidate it is only going to get worse. Political operatives know only too well that negative campaigns work. They increase voter turnout, get the electorate mobilized and drum up passionate feelings on both sides of the aisle. Research into the effect of negative campaigns concentrate on this aspect, but what do these long, drawn-out campaigns do to the emotional health of voters?


    Campaign managers use negative ads to arouse your emotions. They want you to feel agitated because they are counting on this feeling driving you to the polls to cast your vote. According to a report, "Inside the Black Box of Negative Campaign Effects: Three Reasons Why Negative Campaigns Mobilize," by Paul S. Martin, the theory behind negative campaigns is to stimulate the "fight or flight" state and to focus on the fight. Flight, or avoidance, is just as possible and those who become stimulated from these ads may step away, skipping the voting altogether.

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    Whether you choose to cope with negative ads by running to the polls and voting for your candidate or staying home and choosing not to participate, negative ads and high-energy, drawn out political campaigns can have an impact on your feelings of well-being.


    During the last Presidential election, in 2008, when emotions ran high, psychologist Nancy Molitor talked about how the heated rhetoric affected her patients. She indicated that people were having "trouble sleeping, edginess, irritability and increased absences and distractions at work." This election does not show any indications of being any different.


    Negative ads make you worry. You may realize that the negative ads are political tools, a way to make one candidate look better than another, but even so, listening to the insults over and over makes you wonder. You may worry that, if the "other candidate" is elected, he or she will change everything and work to destroy your lifestyle. Author Gretchen Rubin, in her book, "The Happiness Project" reminds people to keep in mind, "No one is trying to ruin the country. Everybody is going to do their best." No matter what you may believe and no matter what candidate you are planning on voting for, remember, all the candidates feel passionately about making your locality, your state or our country a better place.


    This Presidential election began months ago and isn't going to end until November. The following are some ways you can help to control the overwhelming emotions and anxiety that may come about because of the endless political ads and campaigning:


    Limit Your Exposure. You can find political information and ads any time, day and night. There are 24-hour news channels and the Internet. You can follow polls and learn about every aspect of the candidate's lives. You can find out what they are doing today, where they will be tomorrow. It can be overwhelming and anxiety producing. If you feel yourself becoming anxious and stressed when bombarded with political information, limit how much information you take in. Allow yourself to watch political news for an hour a day or to read one to two articles per day. Once you have reached your daily limit, turn off the television, move to a more relaxing topic or focus and de-stress.


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    Focus on the Positives. Remember that both sides run negative ads. Both sides point out all the potentially harmful aspects of the other person's lifestyle and political opinions. But as you know, each person has good virtues as well. While you don't need to change your political viewpoints or vote for the "other" candidate, you can keep in mind that he (or she) is a good person, one who cares deeply about making this world a better place.


    Volunteer. If you feel strongly that your candidate should be in office and you are frustrated over not being heard, considering volunteering to help. This can give you some feeling of control and use your anxious energy in a more positive way. If you need to get away from the political environment, consider volunteering for a cause you believe in, giving you a sense of satisfaction each day. This helps change your focus to how you can help make the world a better place.




    Martin, Paul S. "Inside the Black Box of Negative Campaign Effects: Three Reasons Why Negative Campaigns Mobilize," 2004, University of Oklahoma:


    Rubin, Gretchen, The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun, 2011, Harper Perennial, New York


Published On: April 03, 2012