Turn Off the Election Coverage

Sometimes what political science tells us is that we should pay less attention to politics. It’s easy to get caught up in the horse race aspect of the presidential election, especially since the news media has an incentive to exaggerate the importance of every gaffe and every piece of preliminary economic news. But the evidence is that what happens four months ahead of a presidential election doesn’t matter very much.


Right now President Obama has a moderate lead over Mitt Romney in the polls. The election is likely to be close, but the smart money considers Obama the favorite in spite of a bad economy. That's because Obama can afford to lose a few swing states this year, but Romney’s margin of error is thinner. Traders at the political futures market Intrade give Obama a 55% chance of getting reelected. And Nate Silver’s election model currently gives Obama a 66% chance of winning.

Outside of those rough estimates, there’s not much we can say. It certainly sounded bad when Obama said “the private sector is doing fine” at a press conference in June. But for all the commentary that statement generated, it is unlikely to lose him many swing votes. Likewise, it made good copy that Romney was booed at the NAACP convention for saying he would repeal Obamacare. Romney’s suggestion that supporters of Obamacare simply want “free stuff” probably tells us something about his attitude and his campaign strategy. But the incident is unlikely to have much effect on Romney’s chance of getting elected.

The fact is that most of what happens over the summer will be forgotten by November. The evidence is that voters are mostly swayed by what happens in the month or two before the election. Ronald Reagan famously asked voters in 1980 to consider whether they were better off than they were four years before. But work by Christopher Achen and Larry Bartels found that voters mostly worry about whether they are better off than they were six months before the election. Likewise, political operatives like to believe that their campaign ads determine elections, but  the evidence is that campaign ads generally do not have much effect more than a week before an election. Even the substantial “bounce” that presidential campaigns get from their party conventions appears to fade after about a month.

As John Sides says, three factors probably do matter right now: the broad economic trends, the overall level of campaign spending, and campaign efforts to mobilize their supporters. Everything else may make for good reading, but probably won’t make much difference on election day.

Follow me on Twitter: @rdeneufville

President Obama image from Pete Souza

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The study's senior author and Integrative Physiology Professor Christopher Lowry described this fat as "one of the main ingredients" in the "special sauce" that causes the beneficial effects of the bacterium.

The finding goes hand in hand with the "hygiene hypothesis," initially proposed in 1989 by the British scientist David Strachan. He maintained that our generally sterile modern world prevents children from being exposed to certain microorganisms, resulting in compromised immune systems and greater incidences of asthma and allergies.

Contemporary research fine-tuned the hypothesis, finding that not interacting with so-called "old friends" or helpful microbes in the soil and the environment, rather than the ones that cause illnesses, is what's detrimental. In particular, our mental health could be at stake.

"The idea is that as humans have moved away from farms and an agricultural or hunter-gatherer existence into cities, we have lost contact with organisms that served to regulate our immune system and suppress inappropriate inflammation," explained Lowry. "That has put us at higher risk for inflammatory disease and stress-related psychiatric disorders."

University of Colorado Boulder

Christopher Lowry

This is not the first study on the subject from Lowry, who published previous work showing the connection between being exposed to healthy bacteria and mental health. He found that being raised with animals and dust in a rural environment helps children develop more stress-proof immune systems. Such kids were also likely to be less at risk for mental illnesses than people living in the city without pets.

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Lowry thinks this understanding can lead to creating a "stress vaccine" that can be given to people in high-stress jobs, like first responders or soldiers. The vaccine can prevent the psychological effects of stress.

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"This is just one strain of one species of one type of bacterium that is found in the soil but there are millions of other strains in soils," said Lowry. "We are just beginning to see the tip of the iceberg in terms of identifying the mechanisms through which they have evolved to keep us healthy. It should inspire awe in all of us."

Check out the study published in the journal Psychopharmacology.