Cortisol and politics: Variance in voting behavior is predicted by baseline cortisol levels

Jeffrey A. French, Kevin B. Smith, John R. Alford, Adam Guck, Andrew K. Birnie, John R. Hibbing

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Participation in electoral politics is affected by a host of social and demographics variables, but there is growing evidence that biological predispositions may also play a role in behavior related to political involvement. We examined the role of individual variation in hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) stress axis parameters in explaining differences in self-reported and actual participation in political activities. Self-reported political activity, religious participation, and verified voting activity in U.S. national elections were collected from 105 participants, who were subsequently exposed to a standardized (nonpolitical) psychosocial stressor. We demonstrated that lower baseline salivary cortisol in the late afternoon was significantly associated with increased actual voting frequency in six national elections, but not with self-reported non-voting political activity. Baseline cortisol predicted significant variation in voting behavior above and beyond variation accounted for by traditional demographic variables (particularly age of participant in our sample). Participation in religious activity was weakly (and negatively) associated with baseline cortisol. Our results suggest that HPA-mediated characteristics of social, cognitive, and emotional processes may exert an influence on a trait as complex as voting behavior, and that cortisol is a better predictor of actual voting behavior, as opposed to self-reported political activity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)61-67
Number of pages7
JournalPhysiology and Behavior
StatePublished - Jun 22 2014


  • Cortisol
  • Politics
  • Stress
  • Voting behavior

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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