Is a Fear of Politics or Politicophobia Real?

Voters waiting to vote in polling place
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Politicophobia, or the fear of politics, is a catch-all term that encompasses a wide range of individual fears. Some people are afraid of the political process, others of politicians. Some fear going to a polling location and casting a vote, while still others are afraid of the responsibility of choosing elected officials. Because there are so many variations on politicophobia, the fear is extremely individualized. What makes one person afraid might seem entirely harmless to someone else. Here's a look at some examples.

Fear of the Political Process

Election season is generally filled with mudslinging, pointed advertisements, and hard-fought debates. If you are uncomfortable with conflict, you might be tempted to hide in the house with the television off during the months preceding a major election.

Fear of Politicians

Like lawyers and used-car salesmen, politicians have a reputation for being slick and untrustworthy. While many people actively dislike politicians, actual fear of them is somewhat more unusual. What is more common, however, is the fear of a specific politician.

During election season, it seems that the entire country takes sides. From major corporations to individual religious leaders, politicians seek out endorsements that they feel can help their bid for election. But almost invariably, endorsing one candidate means speaking out against his or her opponents. When that message comes from a trusted source, it is easy to take it to heart. You may begin to fear a politician who is running ahead in the polls and happens to be someone against whom your pastor, closest friend or boss is spreading a message of hatred.

Fear of Casting a Vote

Polling locations can be intimidating, particularly to those with social phobia, agoraphobia or claustrophobia. Although most districts now have laws preventing campaigning within the polling place, supporters for both sides often line the sidewalks in a last-minute bid to convince voters to choose a specific candidate. It can feel something like walking the gauntlet as campaigners shout slogans and distribute literature.

Inside the polling location, you must go through a series of steps from presenting identification to casting your vote. Poll workers are eager to demonstrate sample ballots and ensure that you understand the process. For those who suffer from certain types of social phobia or agoraphobia, this interaction can feel agonizing.

Fear of Choosing Elected Officials

Although each person holds only one vote, that vote can make a critical difference in the ultimate outcome of the election. If you are unsure where you stand on the issues, unfamiliar with some of the candidates or unclear on how to fill out the ballot, you may be afraid of making the wrong choice. The fear of responsibility is powerful, and some people develop a nearly paralyzing fear of negatively impacting the future.

Fear of the Results

Some people are unafraid of casting a vote but are fearful of the direction in which the country is heading. This appears to be especially true when elections happen to fall during a period of war, economic uncertainty or other negativity. Campaign promises, attack ads, and mudslinging heighten the effects, with each side trying desperately to convince voters that "bad things" will happen if the other side is elected.

During presidential elections, the balance of power is frequently mentioned. Legislation must pass through the House and the Senate before being signed by the president. Controlling two or even all three branches of government makes it easier for a political party to pass its agenda, so naturally, both major parties want to gain as much control as possible. But this fight for control makes it easy for those who support the "losing" side to develop strong fears of what the future will hold.

Self-Help Strategies

It would be virtually impossible to escape the election season altogether. Major elections, particularly the presidential race, are woven into the fabric of our society. Election talk is everywhere, from the water cooler in the office to the 24-hour news networks. 

If politicophobia is interfering with your everyday life, you may want to talk to a therapist. With a bit of practice, it's possible to mitigate the effects. Try these simple tricks when you feel overwhelmed by the fear of politics.

  • Know when to walk away from a political discussion.
  • Monitor the early caucuses and then turn off the television.
  • Take a walk or go for a bike ride.
  • Call a friend who is not politically minded and head out to dinner.

And remember: It's okay to listen to debate now and then. Staying informed is healthy, but allowing yourself to slide into an obsession is not.

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Article Sources

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  • American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th Ed.). Washington, DC: Author.