Struggling with election anxiety? So are 60% of U.S. adults, according to a new Yahoo News/YouGov poll.

Someone with a worried look on their face and a phone in their hand.
Experts explain what's driving election anxiety — and what to do about it. (Getty Images)

Election Day 2024 is still more than five months away, but many Americans are already feeling dread about it. In a new Yahoo News/YouGov poll of 1,794 U.S. adults, a total of 60% of respondents described themselves as feeling "very" (29%) or "somewhat" (31%) anxious about the upcoming presidential election. For those who haven't been following the news, Nov. 5 will see a rematch between former President Donald Trump and incumbent President Joe Biden, with independent candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. hoping to siphon off voters from the two main parties.

The poll, conducted from May 10 to May 13, also sheds light on who is most stressed out. Women were slightly more likely than men to report feeling very or somewhat anxious (62% compared to 58%). Older adults also expressed more concern than younger respondents, with 72% of those age 65 and older reporting anxious feelings about the election, compared to 51% of those between the ages of 18 and 29.

When it comes to party affiliation, Democrats and Republicans were neck and neck in terms of feeling "somewhat" anxious (32% for each party), though Democrats were more likely to be "very" anxious than their GOP counterparts (37% vs. 29%). Independents, meanwhile, were the group most likely to say they were "not at all" anxious about Election Day (19% compared to 12% each for Democrats and Republicans).

Psychologist Daniel Selling, founder of the Williamsburg Therapy Group, tells Yahoo Life that the poll "tracks pretty well" with what he's hearing from patients right now.

"It shows up in a fair amount of sessions," Selling says. "It will show up more as the election gets closer."

Here’s what experts say about election-related stress, from what it involves to how to manage those feelings.

Election anxiety — or "election stress disorder," as one psychologist, Steven Stosny, has coined it — certainly isn't a new phenomenon. Ahead of the 2016 presidential election, the American Psychological Association found that more than half of Americans considered it a "significant source of stress." By 2020, that number had risen to two-thirds of U.S. adults.

“Many patients express anxiety about elections, especially those who are members of marginalized or oppressed groups,” adds clinical psychologist Kate Lieberman, who notes that “this is a prevalent issue” in Washington, D.C., where her practice is based. “These individuals often have legitimate concerns about the impact of elections on their rights and liberties.”

Selling says that he's hearing less "doom and gloom" thinking this election cycle and more "dissatisfaction" and "disbelief" as 2024 presents another showdown between the same candidates as 2020.

According to Lieberman, someone feeling election-related stress might show symptoms such as:

  • Intrusive thoughts: This includes having “persistent worries about the upcoming elections, ruminating on worst-case scenarios and imagining negative outcomes,” says Lieberman. “These thoughts can be overwhelming and difficult to control.”

  • Compulsive behaviors: Are you constantly monitoring social media for election-related updates, poring over the latest polls and letting the election dominate discussions with friends and family? “These behaviors may represent attempts to feel a sense of power and control, but they ultimately increase anxiety,” Lieberman says.

  • Avoidance: Not everyone with election stress obsessively follows news coverage. Lieberman points out that “some individuals may steer clear of news, television or even social interactions altogether to avoid election-related conversations.” Avoiding the subject may offer relief in the short term, but it can ultimately contribute to anxiety in the long run, she adds. “This is because avoidance can decrease self-efficacy and reinforce the subconscious belief that the avoided topic is too frightening to face, exacerbating feelings of helplessness and fear.”

  • Physical symptoms: Muscle tension, an elevated heart rate, headaches and stomach issues are all physical ways in which stress might affect us, Lieberman says.

  • Cognitive symptoms: “The constant preoccupation with election-related stress can impair one's ability to function effectively in daily life,” Lieberman says, citing issues such as impaired decision-making and an inability to concentrate or focus.

Of the 60% of respondents who said they feel anxious about the election, 15% say they deal with those feelings by avoiding all election news, while 13% avoid news about the candidates they don't plan to vote for.

Another 11% channel those emotions into action by volunteering for a campaign or making donations for their preferred candidate — a coping strategy Lieberman says can empower voters. “Taking proactive steps, such as volunteering, donating or advocating for causes and politicians you believe in, can provide a sense of agency and purpose,” she says. “These activities can help individuals feel that they are contributing to positive change rather than feeling helpless.”

Selling encourages his patients to focus on the things they can control (like voting) and not give into worst-case-scenario thinking about how election results might impact the future.

Lieberman agrees. “Individuals can learn to identify and question catastrophic thinking and other cognitive biases,” she explains. “Although challenging due to the real and significant impacts elections can have, reframing thoughts to be more balanced and realistic can reduce anxiety. For example, instead of thinking, ‘If the election doesn’t go my way, everything will be terrible,’ consider, ‘While the outcome is important, I can take steps to influence my community and support the causes I care about.’”

Avoiding alarmist narratives — whether they stem from news coverage, social media or the campaigns themselves — that promote disinformation, sow division or paint “a way more cataclysmic sort of reality” is also helpful, Selling says, as they "feed the anxiety." It's best to be discerning and process that type of content "with a grain of salt," he adds.

Lieberman suggests setting healthy boundaries. “Choosing reliable sources of information and limiting the time spent on news consumption can help maintain a balanced perspective,” she says. “Staying informed is important, but it should be done in a way that does not dominate one’s life or mental well-being. Limiting exposure to election-related coverage to specific times or days can help prevent becoming overwhelmed.”

Self-care can also help, she adds. Relaxing experiences — from exercise to meditation to hobbies — and time spent with loved ones can reduce stress and help people “maintain a balanced perspective.”

“Come back to what's joyful” is what Selling tells patients. "Focus on what is happening in your life in this moment, and focus on things that you actually can control versus putting your heart and your angst into an outcome that, aside from voting, is outside of your control."