The next six months of horse race election news will get crazy on its own. Our going crazy will not help. (More)

The Horse Race, Part III: Staying Sane (Non-Cynical Saturday)

This week Morning Feature considered the horse race media coverage of elections. Thursday we explored why the media focus more on the horse race than on exploring policy questions. Yesterday we unpacked public opinion polls and the stories about them. Today we conclude with how to maintain your sanity from now until November.

They’re in the first turn….

And from there it’s easy to go round the bend. As we saw Thursday, our emotional response to political news is keyed to whether we think our candidates are winning or losing. And as we saw yesterday, the polls are bouncing and will keep on bouncing, if only from inevitable randomness. Pundits will tell stories about every bounce, and many of those stories will feel true. Some might even be true. Toss in candidates’ speeches, surrogates’ comments, candidates’ ads, an avalanche of independent ads, all marinating in an endless ocean of bloviation … and it’s easy for we activists to go round the bend too.

For all the media comparisons, an election is not a sporting event. Elections have consequences for our families and communities, our nation and the world, and we all care about those consequences. We also have to juggle family and work along with political activism in our schedules, and as the campaign season heats up our personal time shrinks away. We may have different stress limits, but each has a limit. If we try to push beyond that, our bodies remind us that we’re human beings. We get irritable and overlook details. We may even lose sleep. Sooner or later, something has to give.

Often that something will be our activism. We can’t walk away from family or jobs, after all. Someone else can make the phone calls and walk the precincts. What’s more, we get more likely to hit that wall as the election draws closer and the anxiety builds toward its peak. We’re most likely to burn out just as our activism is most needed.

How to stay (mostly) sane:

Before you object, yes, I know you’re not entirely sane even at the best of times. None of us is. Caveat (parenthetically) noted. Thank you. Moving left along, here are my strategies for keeping at least a smidgeon of sanity:

  • Look for news, avoid opinions – As an activist, it’s useful for you to know what President Obama, Mitt Romney, and other political leaders said and did recently. Recent news is more likely to be fresh in voters’ minds, so they’re more likely to raise recent news examples or be receptive to the examples we offer. Yet while it’s useful to know what the news is, you really don’t need to know this or that pundit’s opinion about the news. What’s more, can keep up with the trickle of actual news in a few minutes each day. You can’t even theoretically keep up with the flood of opinions about the news. Save yourself the time and anxiety … except of course for the must-read opinions here at BPI Campus.
  • Find reasons to laugh – Laughter not only feels good, but also helps your body many important ways. Look for humor around you, share humor with your family and fellow activists, be willing to laugh at yourself, and remember that while elections have consequences … so does getting sick.
  • Be politically active – Several psychological studies have shown a link between perceived helplessness and depression. The best antidote for political anxiety is political activism. It makes you feel as if you can influence political events, and lessens the sense of sitting helplessly while the news is blasted at you. You’ll also find that talking one-to-one with actual voters is a lot less ugly than hearing pundits yell at each other.
  • Pace yourself – The flip side to “be politically active” is to learn and recognize your time and energy limits. Someone else may be able to volunteer four hours an evening, five evenings a week. You might not, but your two hours two nights a week – or whatever you can do – still matter. If it comes down to a choice between easing off now or burning out before October … ease off now and be ready to help when the campaigns most need your help.
  • Take care of yourself – Finally, remember the little things … like taking time to eat before you head off to that rally, meeting, or phone bank. You’ll feel better, and everyone else won’t have to ignore the rumble in your stomach. The same goes for sleep and other basic health needs.

These hints should help you reach November without having to be peeled off a wall, and that’s important. Because the rest of us expect you to peel us off the wall.


Happy Saturday!