By James Steur, Ph.D. Candidate, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Political science is a discipline that often focuses on topics related to elections, institutions, and the mass public. As populism rises across the globe and the US public continues to show high levels of distrust toward the government, recent work has begun examining the relationship between health and politics. How can the health of citizens impact their political participation? And how can politics impact the health of citizens? The panel “Political Psychology and Health” fostered a series of stimulating conversations about the relationship between health and politics, primarily in the field of political behavior. Below, I highlight a few key considerations from the panel’s presenters.

Kyle Hull, at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, presented “Disability Benefits? The Impact of Physical Disability in Electoral Decisions.” Using survey experiments and a conjoint experiment, Dr. Hull found a surprising relationship: members of the mass public appear to offer warmer and more positive evaluations of candidates with clearly visible physical disabilities in comparison to those without a physical disability. His work calls into question the way that members of the mass public evaluate candidates with physical disabilities and the role of positive stereotypes in the formation of candidate evaluations.

Nicholas D’Amico and Shana Kushner Gadarian from Syracuse University presented “Partisan Elite Messaging and Emotion in Public Health Crises.” Dr. Gadarian and Mr. D’Amico presented observational and experimental data that suggests partisan elite cues influence the mass public’s emotional responses, and consequently results in diverging attitudes and behaviors on health threats. For instance, health has not generally been a partisan issue in the US, however, COVID-19 has served as a source of polarization around specific attitudes and behaviors like social distancing, hand washing, and masking behaviors. Dr. Gadarian and Mr. D’Amico’s work have us consider the extent to which elite cues and emotions can lead to diverging attitudes and behaviors around health threats. And, by extension, how these diverging attitudes and behaviors can lead to the inaction of healthcare policies that protect citizens.

Christopher Ojeda, at the University of California-Merced, discussed “The Political Antecedents of Depression.” Dr. Ojeda presented both survey research and experimental research to examine questions like, “Is politics systematically depressing?” Overall, Dr. Ojeda finds that politics does evoke depression for members of the mass public across a variety of different policy issues. Ultimately, Dr. Ojeda’s presentation serves as a precursor to his forthcoming book project titled, The Sad Citizen: How Politics Makes Us Depressed.

Fatih Erol, at the University of Arizona, Aleksander Ksiazkiewicz, at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and Nathan Micatka, at the University of Iowa, presented “Waking up to Politics: How Sleep Quality Relates to Political Participation.” This presentation utilized a fuzzy regression discontinuity design to suggest that lower amounts of sleep result in lower levels of political participation. In this regard, the authors of this project suggest that sleep is an important and understudied topic that has important implications for politics. In sum, sleep does matter for politics.

In the end, the intersection of health and politics is a vibrant area that provokes interesting research questions and important scholarship in the discipline. This panel served as a clear testament to the significance of this research agenda by sparking invigorating discussion about the relationship between health and politics.

About the Author

James Steur is a PhD Candidate in political science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  His research interests include political psychology, political behavior, and the role of emotions in citizen  decision-making.  He is a first-generation student, passionate coffee drinker, and excited to be blogging (for a fifth time!) at MPSA. You can find James on his website at, X at  @JamesSteur, and BlueSky at