The 2024 Election Cycle Has Begun; How Two Years Is Too Psychologically Damaging For Americans
Well kids, time to prepare your brains for a good old-fashioned beat-down …
On November 15th—a mere week after the 2022 midterm elections—ex-President Trump made the announcement he was going to run for his former office, kicking off the 2024 Presidential election cycle. This comes a full TWO YEARS before the election is scheduled to take place. Though this length of time is surprising to some, historically speaking, it’s par for the course; Ted Cruz threw his hat into the ring a full 596 days before the 2016 contest. With Trump having this additional time, it will allow for even more of the general public to have their gray matter infected with his hyperbolic rhetoric. Rhetoric which constantly bounces between the absurd and the deadly. Rhetoric which will play a significant role in the decline of mental health when it comes to tens of millions of Americans.
Sadly, he isn’t the only factor in this decline.
Using whatever comes in handy to gin up the proper amount of fear in the largest amount of people possible has been a tried-and-true method used by both political parties for as long as memory permits. When it comes to brow-beating your constituents through mental stress tactics, the Democrats also have a seat at the table.
But before I dissect what the psychological community has to say about the impact Americans are experiencing because of these tactics, one question must be addressed first. How does the American presidential election cycle compare with the rest of the world? Are we really THAT different?
By law In Mexico, presidential campaigning is required to last only 147 days. In France, presidential campaigns are generally only two weeks long. In 2015, Canada had what they consider a "lengthy" election cycle that lasted 11 weeks. And in India, election campaigns take place for a two-week period between the announcement of the final list of candidates and the date of polling.
Wouldn’t it be nice? I must admit I’m jealous of these nations as they’ve figured something out the US hasn’t.
Though I understand there may be just as many reasons the elections are shorter around the world as there are nations represented, I do believe there is one motive that leads the pack. Given the scientific data available when it comes to the influence absurdly long election cycles have on the human brain, I have no doubt that the mental well-being of each nation’s citizens is at the top of their list.
A 2021 study done by Scientific Direct (a leading platform of peer-reviewed literature from Elsevier journals and books) found some startling results when it came to the 2016 election. Over 4 million political ads were aired across all offices and levels of government in the 2016 election cycle alone. The study estimated that each participant was exposed to over 500 televised campaign ad airings in the ten months preceding and that exposure to campaign ads during that time was directly associated with increased anxiety.
The study also found that a 1% increase in overall campaign ad exposure during the 2016 election cycle was associated with a 0.06% increase in the odds of a respondent being told by a doctor in the past year they have anxiety. Yet, when the exposure was doubled to 2%, the increased odds of anxiety leaped to 4.25%. Essentially, this increase in anxiety is startlingly disproportionate and increases exponentially with each exposure.
A different survey conducted by the American Psychological Association in September 2020 found that the 2020 presidential election was a source of stress for 68% of Americans, substantially higher than the corresponding number of 52% for the 2016 election. Though the subject participants were found to have consumed roughly the same amount of ads, the tone of those ads was vastly different.
Enter the political weaponization of COVID-19.
The Kantar Group (a data analytics and brand consulting company based in London) found that election ad spending totaled $8.5 billion in 2020, with ads referencing COVID-19 accounting for approximately $936 million, or 11% of the total. These election spots appeared at all levels of government and aired more than 1.6 million times on the nation’s airwaves from January 1st through election day.
When looking at the numbers, this usage of a deadly disaster as political fodder was definitely bipartisan. Democratic ad spending referencing COVID-19 in combination with an “anti-Trump” message totaled nearly $278 million with 382,000 airings. Conversely, Republican spots which referenced COVID-19 in combination with a “pro-Trump” message totaled $57 million on 100,000 airings.
Though we can argue over the discrepancy in the amounts spent on this "punch-counterpunch" strategy used by the parties and their ads’ effectiveness, that would be missing the point. The fact that both sides would use the tragic loss of life as campaign fodder shows just how little each cares about the mental well-being of their constituents. That, and there is literally nothing off-limits when it comes to securing an electoral victory.
Thank God we live in America, where this kind of politicking is openly accepted. And not only is it accepted, but I truly believe that our inaction in finding leaders that are willing to cap the length of these elections—thereby ensuring our exposure to mental abuse will be diminished—has shown we might actually like the euphoria that comes from being scared out of our minds.