Saturday, October 6, 2012

American voter participation is consistently below that of other industrialized democracies. (The historically significant 2008 presidential election drew less than 62 percent of eligible voters to the polls.) Poor turnout produces poor representation, which produces laws people are disinclined to obey and so undermines the process. But here’s a new idea: testosterone may provide a key to boosting voter turnout.

In 2008, scientists from Duke University and the University of Michigan analyzed the biological effects of voting on more than 150 voters.

They noted a dramatic pattern: men who had voted for the losing presidential candidate, John McCain, suffered a big drop in their testosterone after hearing of his defeat.
The scientists reported that the male McCain voters “felt significantly more controlled, submissive, unhappy and unpleasant.” The testosterone effect was “as if they directly engaged head-to-head in a contest for dominance” and lost, one researcher told a reporter when the study was published in 2009. The men who voted for Obama fared better.

Women had no change in testosterone levels, regardless of whom they voted for.

Is it possible voting makes male voters too vulnerable? Could the unpleasant feelings male voters experience when their candidates lose discourage them from revisiting the polls? No wonder they stop voting. It hurts too much.

Low turnout should be a concern, and not just because of the inadvertent commentary it supplies on American manhood. The democratic process is our way of resolving conflict. It produces the laws that underpin our society, often in the face of substantial disagreement. Researchers have demonstrated that participants in the democratic process are more likely to comply with its outcomes, even when they disagree. They pay their taxes and obey the speed limit.

Low turnout also affects the quality of government.

Americans are struggling with a severe case of electoral dysfunction. They have to navigate bureaucratic hurdles needed to cast a ballot...

Perhaps the pharmaceutical industry will come up with a little blue pill to make people voters. But until then, we may need to man up and face facts. For all our idealism about voting and democracy, we have created a needlessly complex and burdensome voting system...we should think about making voting simpler and easier.

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