Election stress weighs on student voters

Thursday, November 3, 2016 - 8:04pm

Currently outside of the Michigan Union Starbucks, a dozen or so photographs depict University of Michigan students and messages they chalked on the Diag.

The Unviersity exhibit is strategically placed at one of the most frequented places on campus to remind students to take care of themselves mentally throughout not only their academic requirements but also throughout the 2016 presidential election, and it's far from the only effort in place.

This year’s election features the two most unpopular candidates in history, as well as derogatory comments targeted toward minority groups and general hostility between candidates. In a recent study the American Psychological Association, more than half of all American adults said they feel very or somewhat stressed by this election.

Michael Traugott, research professor at the University’s Center for Political Studies, said the data is not shocking given what voters have witnessed in the media and during debates.

“The polling data shows that we have two of the most unpopular candidates ever to run in a presidential election,” Traugott said. “The general tone of the campaign has been very negative, shown by the fact that the candidates didn’t shake hands. We can be confident that it’s been quite stressful.”

On campus, the University’s Counseling and Psychological Services has taken notice of the climate as well. In response to both the political climate and the APA’s study, CAPS has created services to help handle election stress.

Mishelle Rodriguez, coordinator of social media at CAPS, said she noticed from both personal experience and the APA study that regardless of their political affiliations, people are stressed.

“This year, people’s experiences have been markedly different than previous years,” Rodriguez said. “I don’t know that ever before there has been a need for this. We really wanted to be proactive and offer students events, information and coping skills so people felt that we were supporting them.”

The APA’s findings indicate that both Republicans and Democrats are equally stressed. The study also shows the two age groups experiencing the most stress are matures (71+) and millennials (19-37) some of whom are voting for the first time. Additionally, the study indicated that adults who use social media experience more stress than those who don’t.

Rodriguez said she believes social media is a huge factor in the mental health of students because it can be difficult for some individuals to put their phones down and disconnect when the time calls for it.

“There’s a certain level of information that’s good for people to make better decisions on how they’re going to vote, but there is a point where you are consuming all this information and can’t process all of it, so that gives people anxiety,” Rodriguez said.

As well, she said social media provides a platform for discourse in which you don’t see the other person and therefore don’t face repercussions for the things you say.

“When people post comments on social media, they don’t see how it impacts other people, and they have anonymity, so they can say very callous, inflammatory things without ever having to deal with how it impacts people,” Rodriguez said.

Staff psychologist Jamye Banks, coordinator of suicide prevention at CAPS, said the University is also unique in that it is such a diverse community, which can be yet another stressor that students have to manage.

“Anxiety is already a major issue on this campus because of the academics and adding the uncertainty of how the election will play out adds to that,” Banks said. “We have a diverse group of people on this campus, and not everybody has the same idea, and how do you then dialogue with people on campus who have different ideas and perspectives? And if you’re a targeted identity within all of this, that’s going to be more stressful and you’re worried about safety.”

For Engineering junior Mazen Oweiss, the type of used rhetoric is causing worry both for himself and those he cares about.

“My mom and some of my friends wear a hijab so when they go out there and wear it on their sleeve, it’s upsetting to see that (derogatory comments) happen in public,” Oweiss said. “It’s upsetting and a bit worrying because it affects people I care about. There’s a general feeling of alienation.”

Public Policy junior Ella Webb, a member of Students for Choice, said she also finds it alarming that hate speech has become OK throughout the election season.

“I think Trump has normalized it, and if someone who is in a position of power is promoting that ideology, people become more comfortable not just with the comments themself but on issues of immigration and racism,” Webb said. “I’ve seen this kind of rhetoric pick up a lot because people are more comfortable because they now have a figure to back up their claims to."

GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump has faced criticism over high profile incidents like a video released in which he makes comments about touching a woman without her consent, prospective talk from the candidate on building a wall to block illegal Mexican immigration and the possibility of deporting Muslims.

Traugott said fear of becoming or being a minority, as well as media coverage, contributes to the elevated levels of stress people are experiencing.

“There are problems of whites becoming a minority in the United States by the 2040s, which is creating anxiety in that group,” Traugott said. “There are also issues of the coverage and the style of coverage. Some of it is related to the content and revelations of Trump’s behavior and impudent attitudes about women.”

Traugott also noted Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has had her share of criticism as well from inquiring into a private email server she used for government work and the investigation of the Clinton Foundation in regard to criminal conflict of interest between the foundation and the State Department during Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State.

“In public policy terms, there are a lot of issues that distinguish the two candidates and there are plenty of criticisms of Hillary Clinton’s behavior in the past and recently with the emails,” Traugott said. “But each time the GOP campaign tries to focus on this fact, Trump makes some outrageous statement and the media focus on that, which detracts from the behavior of Clinton.”

Amid the election season, University students have also been processing incidences on campus. In September and October, multiple anti-Black, anti-Muslim and anti-LGBTQ fliers were posted around campus. While the University has taken several steps to combat this rhetoric, it has still left students worried about their safety on campus, prompting many to protest.

Rodriguez said the current political situation and campus climate have left people fearful that the elections won’t result in their favor and, in turn, fearful of how those results will affect their lives.

“Some of the same groups we hear targeted in the political rhetoric are targeted on campus by fliers and all of this stuff echoes each other,” Rodriguez said. “Once this election is over we’ve made it OK to say a lot of callous things and we will have to deal with the aftermath of that for quite a while.”

Oweiss said the aftermath of the election will have a lasting impact on his community, saying he believes racist interactions are occurring in many communities.

“One of my friends was walking home late at night, and she was verbally harassed by three guys based on her race,” Oweiss said. “Stuff like that, where she’s a woman in a hijab walking alone at night, is worrying — that could be my mom or my sister or close friend.”