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Americans are stressed the hell out about this election

Election anxiety is real. Many Americans report “significant stress” due to 2016. 

Donald Trump Holds Town Hall In Colorado Springs Photo by Joe Mahoney/Getty Images
Brian Resnick is Vox’s science and health editor, and is the co-creator of Unexplainable, Vox's podcast about unanswered questions in science. Previously, Brian was a reporter at Vox and at National Journal.

Tomorrow night — more than 590 days after the first major party politician declared candidacy — this long slog of an election season should be over.

Today, it is still a source of tremendous anxiety for a lot of Americans.

The polls, while favoring Hillary Clinton, have tightened. And it’s not just the results that people are worried about.

Trump has claimed that the election will be “rigged” against him, and many fear he and his supporters will contest the election outcome in the case of a loss, leading to a long, drawn out battle. There’s worry that the “rigged” rhetoric could inspire violence. (It’s not so hypothetical: The New York Times profiled a militia group training for a day they’re anticipating when Clinton comes for their guns.)

Anecdotally, psychotherapists across the country are reporting higher-than-average stress and fear among patients. Surveys reflect it, too: The majority of Americans are stressed the heck out about the election.

The data: Nearly half of Americans say the election has been a source of stress in their lives

The American Psychological Association released some preliminary data in October from its upcoming annual “Stress in America” report, on the nation’s level of anxiety specifically around this election.

Around half of people surveyed (52 percent) say the election “is a very or somewhat significant” source of stress in their lives. The breakdown by party is about even: 59 percent of Republicans and 55 percent of Democrats say this election is causing them stress.

The APA also breaks the responses down by age and demographics.

American Psychological Association

The survey of 3,255 Americans living in the US, conducted in August (even before leaked NBC tapes revealed Trump bragged about assaulting women and before the latest FBI kerfuffle over Clinton’s use of a private email server), was weighted to reflect the demographics of the country.

More recently, an ABC News poll found that 46 percent people agreed the election was a source of stress in their lives. That poll was conducted in October and included 1,155 likely voters. Twenty three percent reported the election reported the stress was “serious.”

The ABC News poll also found that women are more stressed out about the election than men (51 percent of women vs 39 percent of men), though “it’s not clear whether women feel more stress or simply are more apt to recognize and report it,” the poll reports.

ABC finds non-college educated white men are the least stressed (at 38 percent), and the highest levels of stress are among college-educated white women (at 59 percent).

Overall, these results are pretty intuitive (have you been reading the news?). The two presidential candidates are historically unpopular.

Brendan Nyhan

The APA doesn’t have historical data on the anxiety of past elections, so it’s hard to say if this one is provoking more than usual.

But a few other polls have also found that Americans are feeling a great many negative emotions about this campaign:

  • In September, the Pew Research Center found that 55 percent of voters said they were “disgusted” with the campaign.
  • Just 15 percent said the campaign made then “optimistic,” and fewer still (10 percent) said they were “excited.”
  • In July, Gallup reported that 51 percent of adults said they “were afraid of the election outcome.”
  • And voters seem to be more anxious about a Trump presidency than a Clinton presidency. A Washington Post/ABC News poll found in August that 70 percent said a Trump win would make them “anxious.” Fifty-one percent said the same about Clinton.

Then again, it’s not unusual for the electorate to feel a bit spooked around presidential races.

In 2004, Gallup found that 90 percent of registered voters agreed the "stakes in this presidential election are higher than in previous years." (As far as I can tell, they haven’t asked the question since.) This year, surprisingly, Gallup found 85 percent agreed with that statement.