Many registered Democrats who claimed they were suffering from mental distress after Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election may have been embellishing a bit. A new study comparing online searches to public surveys show that a significant portion of Democrats were likely over-reporting their stress or mental health issues, but doing so as a means to back their party.
“Our research suggests that for many Democrats, expressing mental distress after the election was a form of partisan cheerleading,” write researchers Masha Krupenkin, David Rothschild, Shawndra Hill and Elad Yom-Tov in their findings. “Clearly, many Democrats were, and are, upset about the Republican victory in 2016; these findings do not invalidate those feelings but put their depth and related actions into perspective.”
This so-called “reverse” cheerleading occurs when a person misreports or exaggerates a condition publicly in order to show support for their affiliated group, or in this case, their political party. The authors say that a person’s actions in private reveal their true condition, however, and for the study, that can be determined by evaluating private search terms. In other words, a person who might describe suffering psychological distress on social media or to their friends, but doesn’t search for any type of help or relief, is more likely showing a form of reverse cheerleading.
For the study, the authors looked at more than 1 million Bing searches by Democrats, Republicans, and Spanish-Speaking Latinos from before and after the election. The searches were grouped based on previously answered questions by users who’d revealed their political affiliation, and by those who searched in Spanish. In particular, the authors looked for specific mental health-related search terms: depression, anxiety, stress, suicide/suicidal, and therapy. They also sought out searches for antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications.