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Nearly 87% of U.Va. students anxious about election

Anxiety levels reported in Cavalier Daily poll exceed national average

<p>Nearly 18 percent of students said they “always” feel anxiety related to the election, 34.6 percent said they “frequently” experience anxiety and 34.6 percent “occasionally” experience anxiety.</p>

Nearly 18 percent of students said they “always” feel anxiety related to the election, 34.6 percent said they “frequently” experience anxiety and 34.6 percent “occasionally” experience anxiety.

The vast majority of University undergraduate students — nearly 87 percent — report some degree of anxiety about the upcoming presidential election, according to a survey of 1,269 undergraduate students conducted last week by The Cavalier Daily, in partnership with a faculty advisory committee and the Center for Survey Research.

The survey, conducted Oct. 21-26 with a +/-2.7 percent error margin, asked students how often the outcome of the presidential election made them feel anxious or worried within the last two weeks. Nearly 18 percent of students said they “always” feel anxiety related to the election, 34.6 percent said they “frequently” experience anxiety and 34.6 percent “occasionally” experience anxiety.

Only 13 percent of respondents said they never feel election-related anxiety.

This level of election-related stress among students is significantly greater than the national average. According to the American Psychological Association, 52 percent of Americans report having anxiety about the election.

“We tend to experience anxiety during times of uncertainty and when we feel that a situation is not controllable but presents some potential threat,” Psychology Prof. Bethany Teachman said in an email statement.

Immediate fears and stressors

Some students said they were stressed by how much coverage this election has garnered.

“The first time [President] Obama was elected I was in eighth grade, and it was like the happiest moment of my life, especially being a black American,” fourth-year College student Gloryah Allen said. “I’m not like excited or happy about this election, I’m just kind of like — let’s just get this over with.”

Others said they were stressed and dissatisfied by their options in the election.

“Both of the candidates have things about them that are extremely unfit for our country,” first-year College student Mercer Craighill said. “It’s sort of alarming that our choices have come down to these two.”

Concern about the candidates’ lack of attention to certain issues was another factor in students’ anxieties.

Black Student Alliance President Bryanna Miller, a third-year College student, said she thinks neither campaign has made black voters a priority, and anxiety over the national climate and fear of violence at the polls compound this factor.

Twenty-two percent of students identifying as black or African-American reported that they were always stressed — the highest level of anxiety on the survey. This was a greater rate of high anxiety than reported by white, Asian, Hispanic or multiracial students.

“If you take those things together — the current racial climate of America and the perceived attack on voting rights — then I think those factors combined [contribute to anxiety for black voters],” Miller said.

Graphic by Kriti Sehgal

Looking beyond the election

For many students, the source of their anxiety was less the election itself and more the political and social repercussions it could have in the years to come.

As a Republican, second-year College student Kate Rutman said she was anxious about what the election, particularly with the popularity of the Libertarian Party, means for the future of the GOP.

“I’m wondering if the [Republican] Party will survive,” she said. “That’s why I’m anxious, because it’s my party.”

The 24 percent of survey respondents who indicated they would support Gary Johnson also reported the highest level of anxiety with regard to the election, compared with 18 percent of Donald Trump supporters and 15 percent of Hillary Clinton supporters.

Neither of the likely outcomes of this election bode well for the Libertarian Party or the future of the two-party system, Cameron Springer, a third-year Engineering student and president of Youth for Gary Johnson, said.

“We’re going to be upset, no matter who’s elected,” he said. “Either candidate is going to grow the size and scope of government, limit liberty — personal liberty and economic liberty.”

Since this election affects who could fill a number of current and expected openings on the Supreme Court, first-year College student Tanner Hirschfeld said he was most concerned about the election’s effects on the court’s composition.

“As a conservative, I fear that, if we do elect Hillary Clinton, I believe that the nominee to the Supreme Court is going to give the Supreme Court power [and] is going to upset the balance,” Hirschfeld said.

Other students were most concerned by the social issues emphasized or even exacerbated by the election.

Mariya Tayyab, a fourth-year College student and president of the Muslim Student Association, said her greatest concern is the kinds of cultural attitudes she fears will persist regardless of who wins the presidency.

Muslim students reported that they were “always” stressed at a rate of 38 percent, a much higher frequency than seen for most other religious groups on Grounds.

“Since the primaries happened, it’s very common for people to speak up about how they have an issue with immigrants, Muslims — just minorities in general,” Tayyab said.

Tayyab said she thought it was the duty of groups like MSA to inform people about Islam.

“If you have questions, we are here,” she said.

Third-year College student Catherine Toro said she was worried about the fate of her undocumented friends.

“[Trump’s] said a lot of things and made a lot of promises that would really threaten my friends and their families,” she said.

Some students fear a reversal of recent human rights decisions. Fourth-year College student Drew Kiser, who identifies as genderqueer, said he was afraid of regression on LGBTQ policies, such as marriage equality.

“I’m anxious about this election because there are very real repercussions that could happen in my life if Trump is elected,” Kiser said.

Coping with election anxiety

Due to the polarization of this election, students are especially uncomfortable about the prospect of a four-year presidency that conflicts with their fundamental values, Teachman said.

“We are hearing about potentially ‘scary’ issues all the time, and the 24-hour news and social media cycles can make these threats feel ever-present,” Teachman said in an email statement.

Teachman said she urges students to educate themselves on which of their fears are founded and which are not.

“Some of the threats that are being presented do not reflect the facts,” Teachman said. “Knowing when threats are being exaggerated can help people to make more realistic evaluations of how dangerous a situation really is.”

Dr. Philip Chow, a post-doctoral student of Psychology who works with Teachman, agreed that the divisiveness of the current election raises the perceived stakes of its outcome.

“The most important thing is to vote,” Chow said. “A lot of the time, anxiety is caused when you feel like you can’t control the outcome … voting can give you a sense of agency, the feeling like you have a say in what the outcome is.”

Nicole Ruzek, associate director for counseling services at CAPS, said a way to manage election stress is to simply take a break from election coverage and conversations, especially on social media.

“Practice mindfulness, which encourages nonjudgmental moment-to-moment awareness,” Ruzek said in an email statement. “If you are feeling triggered by negative ads or opinions, stop, breathe, notice what’s on your mind and how you feel, and proceed with kindness and compassion.”

For more information on polling methodology, click here.

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