Stressful politics: voters' cortisol responses to the outcome of the 2008 United States Presidential election

Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2010 Jun;35(5):768-74. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2009.10.018. Epub 2009 Dec 4.


Social subordination can be biologically stressful; when mammals lose dominance contests they have acute increases in the stress hormone cortisol. However, human studies of the effect of dominance contest outcomes on cortisol changes have had inconsistent results. Moreover, human studies have been limited to face-to-face competitions and have heretofore never examined cortisol responses to shifts in political dominance hierarchies. The present study investigated voters' cortisol responses to the outcome of the 2008 United States Presidential election. 183 participants at two research sites (Michigan and North Carolina) provided saliva samples at several time points before and after the announcement of the winner on Election Night. Radioimmunoassay was used to measure levels of cortisol in the saliva samples. In North Carolina, John McCain voters (losers) had increases in post-outcome cortisol levels, whereas Barack Obama voters (winners) had stable post-outcome cortisol levels. The present research provides novel evidence that societal shifts in political dominance can impact biological stress responses in voters whose political party becomes socio-politically subordinate.

MeSH terms

  • Anxiety / metabolism
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Michigan
  • North Carolina
  • Politics*
  • Saliva / metabolism
  • Social Dominance
  • Stress, Psychological / metabolism*
  • Young Adult


  • Hydrocortisone