The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

America’s top fears: Public speaking, heights and bugs

Sweet dreams, Democrats. (AFP/Ronaldo Schemidt)

Democrats are nearly twice as likely as Republicans to have a fear of clowns. They are also significantly more likely to fear bugs, snakes and other animals, as well as blood and needles. Democrats are slightly more likely to be afraid of ghosts.

These are among the findings of the Chapman University Survey on American Fears, which examined American fears and anxieties across a variety of topics - personal safety, the government, disasters and more. Last week I reported on partisan differences in Americans' belief in the occult, noting that Democrats were more enthusiastic believers in the paranormal than Republicans.

Perhaps due partly to their belief in the unbelievable, Democrats tend to be more phobia-stricken than Republicans, according to the survey. Chapman researchers asked about a dozen different phobias, ranging across everything from public speaking to zombies. On a number of questions, Democrats were more fearful than Republicans. But Republicans weren't significantly more fearful on any of them.

Overall, fear of public speaking is America's biggest phobia - 25.3 percent say they fear speaking in front of a crowd. Clowns (7.6 percent feared) are officially scarier than ghosts (7.3 percent), but zombies are scarier than both (8.9 percent).

The partisan differences can be traced partly education, according to Christopher D. Bader, a sociology professor at Chapman. "Having a lower level of education, particularly having only a high school diploma/GED or less, was the most consistent predictor of fear," he wrote in analysis. In an email, he added "Democrats tend to be slightly less educated than Republicans in our sample. Therefore, this might explain some of the difference."

Another big predictor of fear? Television viewing. "Watching television talk shows with frequency proved to be strongly related to fear," Bader wrote. "It is a simple, straight-line effect – the more one watches talk TV, the more fearful one tends to be." He notes, though, that it's unclear whether TV makes people more fearful, or whether more fearful people watch more TV.

Democrats are fond of caricaturing Republicans as fear-stricken Fox News viewers, clinging to "guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them," in Barack Obama's famous formulation. And the Chapman study notes that Republicans are indeed more likely to express anxiety about certain topics, like immigration, the government, and "today's youth."

But it also helpfully shows us that Democrats are beset by their own anxieties. Whether it's more irrational to fear clowns or "job-stealing immigrants" is an entirely different question.

What are you afraid of, Wonkblog readers?

[polldaddy poll=8412092]