Political Science, Department of



Kevin B. Smith https://orcid.org/0000-0003-0312-2284

Date of this Version



Smith KB (2022) Politics is making us sick: The negative impact of political engagement on public health during the Trump administration. PLoS ONE 17(1): e0262022. https://doi.org/ 10.1371/journal.pone.0262022


Copyright: © 2022 Kevin B. Smith. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License,


Objectives To quantify the effect of politics on the physical, psychological, and social health of American adults during the four-year span of the Trump administration.

Methods A previously validated politics and health scale was used to compare health markers in nationally representative surveys administered to separate samples in March 2017 (N = 800) and October 2020 (N = 700). Participants in the 2020 survey were re-sampled approximately two weeks after the 2020 election and health markers were compared to their preelection baselines.

Results Large numbers of Americans reported politics takes a significant toll on a range of health markers—everything from stress, loss of sleep, or suicidal thoughts to an inability to stop thinking about politics and making intemperate social media posts. The proportion of Americans reporting these effects stayed stable or slightly increased between the spring of 2017 and the fall of 2020 prior to the presidential election. Deterioration in measures of physical health became detectably worse in the wake of the 2020 election. Those who were young, politically interested, politically engaged, or on the political left were more likely to report negative effects.

Conclusions Politics is a pervasive and largely unavoidable source of chronic stress that exacted significant health costs for large numbers of American adults between 2017 and 2020. The 2020 election did little to alleviate those effects and quite likely exacerbated them.