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Our View: Science is in: Lonely people don’t vote

Lonely people are less likely to vote.

This is proven. Alexander Langenkamp’s study “Lonely Hearts, Empty Booths?: The Relationship between Loneliness, Reported Voting Behavior and Voting as Civic Duty,” published in Social Science Quarterly in 2021, found that lonely people are less likely to cast ballots, especially in national elections.

As the pandemic lockdown dragged on, our constant companion was too often political theater. We saw more anger, more violence over polarizing politics, which brought us to new levels of isolation and loneliness. This isolation made us more susceptible to embrace ideas and political tribes that divided us further. As COVID-19 eased and we emerged from our homes, our public space was hostile territory.

We’ve known that loneliness is a growing public health concern. Very dangerous even, with real mental and physical consequences. Loneliness increases mortality risk by 30% – like smoking 15 cigarettes per day – according to a review of research.

Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Making Caring Common project from October 2020 shows 36% of Americans – including 61% of young adults and 51% of mothers with young children – feel “serious loneliness.” Its survey explored types, causes and costs of loneliness, with a range of physical and emotional problems, including depression, anxiety, heart disease, substance abuse and domestic abuse.

Also, 43% of young adults reported increased loneliness, and half said no one asked how they were doing in a way that made them feel like the person “genuinely cared.”

Literature and lived experiences are undeniable and conclusive. Lonely adults aren’t moved to vote and loneliness is deadly.

Even if low-grade, loneliness lingers. But communities can cure loneliness. Like the retro days days of close-knit neighborhoods, we can re-establish vital commitments to each other.

Community Health Action Coalition in La Plata County is actively doing this to alleviate loneliness. During the worst of COVID-19, CHAC members called isolated seniors to chat and check in.

In easing loneliness, one of CHAC’s suggestions on its website is to “listen openly to someone with whom you don’t agree with.” Perfect during election season!

“We have a hard time understanding one another because we don’t talk to one another,” said Lynn Westberg, a CHAC member and former director of San Juan Basin Public Health.

And those lonely moms are not going unnoticed. Liza Tregillus is a retired play therapist and cofounder of Cafe au Play, which connects parents of children up to 3 years old. Besides having a rollicking good time, the playgroup’s intention is for parents to solve their problems together. Over generations, we’ve lost that familial safety net with extended family often living far away. Grandparents with free time were invited to meet these young mothers and, ideally, make friends and provide support.

Tregillus also helped bring to neighborhoods Science on Wheels, a collaboration with Powerhouse Science Center in Durango, for toddlers and their families to wander outside, meet and play.

Tregillus is that person who initiates potlucks and block parties, a veritable neighborhood cheerleader. We appreciate this grassroots, take-charge action for neighbors to move beyond their property lines and create their own communities, where people cat-sit for each other, share bounties from gardens and check on seniors. If you’re so inspired, National Good Neighbor Day is Wednesday.

We can relate to those seemingly small moments when someone was casually kind and, momentarily, offered us a way out from a dark place. And when we think communally, we tend to act communally. And do important things together. Like vote.