Thursday, November 21, 2013

Long Commutes and Political Involvement

Having a long commute is really bad for you. It makes you fatter, more depressed, more likely to get divorced, and so on.

And now comes word that it also makes you less likely to participate in politics:
That is an implication of new research by political scientists Benjamin Newman, Joshua Johnson, and Patrick Lown. They show that participation in politics is 12 points lower for people with a 60-minute commute relative to people who work from home and have no commute. Why does this effect emerge? Newman and colleagues suggest it is because commuting saps people’s underlying interest in politics. And even more unfortunately given the huge gaps in the political involvement of rich and poor, long commutes seem to affect the poor the most. 
It is not just a matter of time spent in the car:
If it were just a question of time, then we might expect people who work long hours to be less involved in politics too. But that isn’t true: people who report working more hours are no more or less likely to participate in politics. Instead, the authors argue that commuting depletes our psychological resources in unique ways. In short, commuting makes us feel bad, and this leaves us with less energy for pursuits like politics.
I have another suggestion: all politics is local, and since people with long commutes have one foot in two different places, they have trouble identifying strongly with the political issues of either. But the depressive effect of long commutes and otherwise overburdened lives is real, and it explains a lot of why really poor people have never been very politically active.

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