I’m a political scientist and I’m putting myself on a political diet for the 2024 elections

(Andrew Harnik/Associated Press)

I’m a political scientist and I’m putting myself on a political diet for the 2024 elections

Opinion piece, Elections 2024

Seth J. Hill

March 26, 2024

As a political scientist, I have long believed that there is political competition


cornerstone of representative democracy. Yet, in the 2024 election cycle, I am consciously limiting my time, attention and contributions to politics. I turned off the news and social media app notifications on my phone. I plan to visit two or three reputable news websites only once a day. And I unsubscribed from candidate fundraising emails.

Why? For while political competition theoretically drives efficient and effective governance, it does not follow that all political spending and involvement is necessarily productive. In fact, I have come to faith


Much of the time and money Americans spend on politics could be divisive rather than promoting citizen knowledge and participation.

The 2024 presidential election is likely to be another costly political spectacle. Spending for the 2020 campaign was more than $14 billion, more than doubling the record set in 2016. Most observers expect the billions raised and spent by the candidates leading up to November 2024 to set another record.

If campaign spending funded reasoned debate or policy analysis, it could all be a worthwhile investment. But a significant portion enriches consultants, media companies and political operatives. Consider that nearly half of campaign spending, according to the Federal Election Commission, which reports on campaign finance quarterly, went to something other than communicating with voters during the 2020 cycle. A full 10% was invested in simply raising more money.

And the FEC’s calculated money is just one way to measure political spending. Among the data collected by the Bureau of Economic Analysis is a category for “professional advocacy,” which is funded by nonprofits such as labor groups and political committees. This figure goes up during election years, with 2020 roughly $20 billion higher than 2019 and 2021.


The agency also reports how much U.S. households spent on print and broadcast media in 2020: more than $180 billion.

Not all of those dollars went to election coverage, but a significant portion did.

Along with our dollars, Americans invest time in political competition.

We match the billions we spend on political media with the time we spend consuming it. By 2023, the 25 most-watched cable news programs alone accounted for approximately 8 billion viewing hours, and that’s not counting online engagement, reading newspapers, or listening to podcasts.

And we do volunteer work. According to the Census Bureau’s American Time Use Survey, Americans doubled the amount of time in the government service and civic duties category in 2016 compared to 2015, and even in the midst of the pandemic, volunteer hours increased 5% in 2020 compared to 2019. .


Political involvement certainly informs voters about the problems facing the country, the positions of candidates and parties, and arguments for and against specific policies. But Americans may discover that less is more. An experiment in which Facebook users were paid to deactivate their accounts for the four weeks before the 2018 midterm elections found that disengagement reduced political polarization, increased subjective well-being, and increased time spent socializing with family and friends. Although knowledge of political information about the election decreased somewhat, there was no comparable magnitude effect on voter turnout or involvement in the election.

All this means that we can have a more focused and purposeful approach to politics, without sacrificing advocacy or citizen participation.

Start on

to make



a time and money budget so that you, not the latest outrage or poll, controls your participation. I am not suggesting unilateral disarmament, that you withdraw entirely or stop working for the causes and candidates you care about. You can make the budget you set for contributions, media intake and volunteer work as large as you want. But don’t let the heat of the campaign dictate your behavior.

Perhaps the most difficult thing is limiting media consumption. Instead of scrolling through whatever the internet algorithms throw at you or reading political podcasts or cable news all day, maybe subscribe to a daily politics newsletter from a reputable source. You may choose to call a friend or take a walk with your family one or two days a week instead of watching politics on television.

Imagine if we freed up billions of hours of American time for friends, family, work or volunteer work that had nothing to do with electioneering. Imagine the societal benefits if we chose to divert some of the money spent on political competition to education, scientific research, new small businesses, or to directly uplift the marginalized.

It is within our power to take back control of our time from the ominous and emotional roller coaster of political competition. And taking back our time and attention with a reasoned plan might even encourage political elites to spend less time generating outrage in the pursuit of your money and emotions. We can help depolarize our politics by making the spectacle of the 2024 campaign an important, but not overly large, part of our lives.

Seth J. Hill

is a professor of political science at UC San Diego. He is the author of “

Frustrated Majorities: How the Intensity of the Problem Allows Smaller Groups of Voters to Get What They Want.


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