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Gridlock's grind may affect political participation

Wednesday - 9/25/2013, 11:10am  ET

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Lengthy commutes can drain people, leaving them without the 'cognitive exertion' needed to engage in the political process, the study finds. (WTOP) (WTOP)

What do people on the street think?

WTOP's Kristi King reports.

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WASHINGTON - How much you commute and how much money you make may affect your level of civic participation and your level of political apathy, a new study finds.

The study, "The 'Daily Grind': Work, Commuting and Their Impact on Political Participation," focuses on the dynamics of the commute for people of different economic levels.

The study used national survey data to conclude that people with low incomes are the ones most "ground down" by long daily commutes and thus the least likely to take part in civic and political activities.

According to the study:

"Among lower income Americans, a longer commute leads to a significant erosion of interest in politics, and this in turn leads to significant decreases in participation. Among higher income Americans however, the relationship is reversed; increased time spent commuting among those with the highest income is found to significantly enhance interest, which in turn, increases levels of participation."

The researchers say the time spent in gridlock is ego-depleting and poses a strain psychologically, while actually working does not because there is a monetary reward involved.

Author Benjamin Newman of the University of Connecticut tells The Washington Times those with lower incomes become "depoliticized."

"Higher-income people are more likely to use commuting to their advantage," he tells the Times, because higher-income people may be more likely to use the time in the car to listen to news, and may use their higher pay to justify their commutes.

Long-distance, high-income commuters also "are more likely to know and work with their neighbors," while those with lower incomes are not, according to the study.

The study finds the strain of commuting further marginalizes those who are underrepresented in politics.

"The findings from this article suggest that lower income commuters, while perhaps in high need of upping their level of interest advocacy on matters of labor and wages, taxation, redistribution, social welfare, and planning and transportation, will be less likely to do so because their current situation has left them depleted of key resources needed for such action," the study says.

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