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Your Commute Is Killing Your Inner Citizen


Slogging your way to and from work every day makes for bad citizens, according to a new study from researchers at the University of Connecticut and Stony Brook University. Longer commutes drain the will to participate in politics (by, for example, voting, contacting one’s political representative, or working on campaigns). From the report (h/t Lukas Neville):

Drawing upon national survey data, this article analyzes the independent effects of time spent working and commuting on political participation. Our results indicate that, even after controlling for a variety of relevant individual and contextual factors, time spent working exerts no impact on one’s level of participation. An increase in time spent commuting, however, is found to lead to a significant decrease in participation.

Interestingly, the authors found that the effect of commuting on political participation varied widely between low and high income groups. Long commutes for low income earners led to a significant decrease in both political interest and political participation, but those earning big bucks were more interested and engaged in politics as their commutes lengthened. The authors were concerned by this finding:

[O]ur results suggest that the societal processes increasingly forcing commuting on individuals, and leading to longer commuting times, are working to further distance an already weakly active and often marginalized segment of the populace from the democratic process.

Obviously one can’t vote or write one’s representative while stuck in rush hour traffic, but this study suggests something more than just the impact of lost time is at play: longer hours spent at work had no effect on political participation. The authors suggest that commuting is an “ego depleting activity,” that it consumes psychological resources in a way that work does not.

Few would choose a longer commute: the costs, both in time and money spent on gas or public transit, are apparent (Mobile Work Exchange just released a calculator that shows exactly how much you could save by cutting out the commute and working remotely). But new studies are finding a whole host of hidden costs—to relationships, mental health, asthmatic children, and now to one’s political engagement—that the daily chore entails. The reasons to telework are mounting.

[Telecommuting image courtesy of Shutterstock]

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