Can Debates Lead to Clinical Depression?
Experts told us how candidates' performances might affect supporters' mental health -- and sway elections.
The good news for those who are deeply affected emotionally by a sports team's or politician's performance is that the emotional impact is fairly brief -- for most of us. Researchers at the University of Virginia found that most fans who were disappointed by a team's performance were affected for about one day and then returned to pregame levels of happiness.
But there are data to suggest that while, for most of us, individual happiness may not be dictated long-term by the performance of our teams, the collective happiness of our communities and, ultimately, our politics may be. In what he has dubbed the "prosperity model," Michael Miller of Australian National University found that American voters are more likely to "opt for the status quo" when they feel happy.
In comparing decades of win and loss records of professional sports teams with election data, he found that when the team won in a particular city, incumbents did better in elections there. The inference is that voters with winning teams are happier and therefore cast a vote against change because they're happy with the way things are.
So what does that mean for the 2012 presidential election? Potentially good news for the incumbent president. A 2012 Gallup poll found that Americans are happier this year than they have been since 2008.
Atkins, who was chief of staff for Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz before retiring from life as a political operative, speculated that the president's first debate debacle, as depressing as it was for supporters, could turn out to be a blessing in disguise. Because the president's first debate performance tightened a race that he was supposed to win, Atkins said, it ignited more activism among previously overconfident Obama supporters.
He mentioned family members who immediately donated to the Obama campaign because they feared that the president was in trouble after the first debate. The second debate performance simply energized them more. Now "nobody wants to be the one that doesn't vote and he loses," Atkins said.
He added this caveat: "Enthusiasm is driven by the taste of winning. His biggest success of the second debate was to give people the sense that he is back in it and he is still going to win. That's all we need to keep voters in the game." But he cautioned that if, for some reason, the president's poll numbers go into a free fall and it seems hopeless, there are people who may stay home.
When asked whether there is a litmus test to gauge whether or not you are allowing being a sports fan or political supporter to interfere with your emotional well-being to an extreme or unhealthy extent, mental-health expert Gardere replied, "Yes ... If you wake up in the morning thinking about the politician or sports team and go to bed at night thinking about them, then you really need to get a life."
Editor's note: This article was updated after the final presidential debate in Boca Raton, Florida.
Keli Goff is The Root's political correspondent. Follow her on Twitter.