Faced with stressful experiences, such as uncertainty or novelty, the adrenal glands secrete glucocorticoid hormones to help us cope with stress. Since many decision-making situations are stressful, there is reason to believe that voting is a stressful event. In this study, we asked voters in Israel's national election (N=113) to report on their general affective state immediately before entering the polling place using the Positive Affect Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS) and to provide us with a saliva sample through which we could evaluate their cortisol levels. Compared to a second sample of voters who reported their affective state on election night (N=70), we found that voters at the ballot box had higher positive and negative affect. Moreover, our voters at the polling place exhibited cortisol levels that were significantly higher than their own normal levels obtained on a similar day, and significantly higher than those of a second control group sampled the day after the elections (N=6). Our data demonstrate that elections are exciting, yet stressful events, and it is this stress, among other factors, that elevates the cortisol levels of voters. Since elevated cortisol has been found to affect memory consolidation, impair memory retrieval and lead to risk-seeking behavior, we discuss how these outcomes of elevated cortisol levels may affect voting in general and the field of electoral studies in particular.
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