An Israeli flag is seen in the background as a man casts his ballot for the parliamentary election.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
A new University of Haifa and University of Nebraska study just published in the journal PLoS One has found that voting at the poll booth can be very stressful. The researchers recommend voters be allowed to vote from their online home computers, using special passwords.
“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 University of Haifa’s School of Political Science, who conducted the study.
For such sensitive voters, casting a ballot can even cause changes in their hormonal indicators. “For such individuals, voting from home could be a solution that would allow them to exercise their democratic right,” said Waismel- Manor. He conducted a previous study with Prof.
Hagit Cohen and Dr. Gal Ifergan during the 2009 Knesset election that found voting is a stressful event that causes changes in the level of cortisol in the body – a hormone is secreted during states of stress.
In the present study, in which Dr. Jayme Neiman and several University of Nebraska colleagues were also involved, 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 or the aspect of being present among strangers in a public place? It could also be a combination of the two components, they suggested.
To answer this question, 137 voters were recruited before the last US presidential election four years ago and randomly divided into three groups. One group voted at the polls at 7 p.m. and the second a week earlier at exactly the same hour from their homes by email.
To ensure 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. and sent to a local mall 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 their cortisol level 30 minutes before and 30 minutes after voting or shopping.
The researchers found the cortisol in people who voted from home and those who went to the mall did not change, while in those who went to vote at the polls at 7 p.m. there was a significant increase. According to Waismel- Manor, the findings indicate that the stressful element in voting at a polling station is not just being in a public place or making an important political decision, but the combination of these two factors.