Political Science, Department of


Date of this Version



Published: (2023) Politics and the Life Sciences. DOI: 10.1017/pls.2023.8


Used by permission.


The 2020 U.S. presidential election saw rising political tensions among ordinary voters and political elites, with fears of election violence culminating in the January 6th riot. We hypothesized that the 2020 election might have been traumatic for some voters, producing measurable symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). We also hypothesized that negative sentiment towards the opposing party correlates with PTSD. We measured PTSD with a modified PCL-5, a validated PTSD screener, for 573 individuals from a nationally representative YouGov sample. We modeled the association between affective polarization and PTSD, controlling for political, demographic, and psychological traits. We estimate that 12.5% of American adults (95% CI: 9.2 to 15.9%) experienced election-related PTSD, far higher than 3.5%, the annual PTSD prevalence rate. Additionally, negativity towards opposing partisans correlated with PTSD symptoms. These findings highlight a potential need to support Americans affected by election-related trauma.