Research examines links between commuting and political participation


Traffic backs up on the inbound 14th Street Bridge, file photo. (Linda Davidson/The Washington Post).

For many folks in the D.C. region, commuting is a chore. It can be stressful, expensive and time consuming.

A recent report on NPR says it also may impact how likely folks are to be politically engaged.

Shankar Vedantam reported on new research out of Stonybrook University and the University of Connecticut, which  found that time spent traveling to and from work may explain why people are less engaged in politics. It wasn’t necessarily a matter of time, researchers found, but rather that some folks may just feel too exhausted to participate. The impact is particularly pronounced among those from low socio-economic backgrounds.

Vendantam explained:

There’s something about commuting in particular that seems to affect engagement, and the researchers are drawing here on this paper on earlier work by the behavioral economist Daniel Kahneman. He’s found that commuting ranks among the most unpleasant parts of people’s day. There’s something uniquely stressful about commuting, and so when you get home after a hellacious day, you really have nothing to give to other people in terms of civic engagement, in terms of getting involved in your neighborhood politics.

Why should we care about who participates?

Researcher Joshua Johnson, a PhD student at Stonybrook University, explained it this way:

Low income individuals are already underrepresented in politics, and if this commuting is having an effect of isolating them even more from politics, the outcomes of that would be pretty bad.

Read more about the researchers’ findings here.

Lori Aratani writes about how people live, work and play in the D.C. region for The Post’s Transportation and Development team.

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