October 26, 2020 - Podcast

Episode 50—Alcohol use, and Latino voters

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to drag on, many people are trying to find ways to cope. For some, that means turning to alcohol. According to a study from Indiana University researchers and The RAND Corporation, alcohol consumption went up by 14 percent overall from the period when COVID-19-related social distancing measures were widely in place in late May and early June, compared to before the pandemic. For women, that increase was 17 percent. Furthermore, alcohol use for those 30-to-59 years of age increased by 19 percent. Hank Green, an associate professor at the IU School of Public Health, says the findings are telling because prior to the pandemic, women tended to drink less than men and those age 30 to 59 were not generally considered heavy drinkers. These findings suggest that the stress of social distancing measures is leading these groups to increase their consumption of alcohol as a way to cope, Green says. In addition to drinking more frequently, one in 15 women who did not report any binge drinking prior to the pandemic, began binge drinking during the outbreak and binged 2.6 days per month on average, the study found. Green says although drinking appears to have increased among these groups, the good news is the study found the initial increases subsided over time, meaning the increase can be attributed to stress rather than a chronic or long-term response.

In other news, fear has long been used by American politicians to mobilize voters to turn out at the polls. But Vanessa Cruz Nichols, assistant professor of political science at IU, says this approach is not as effective as many believe -- especially when it comes to Latino voters. Cruz Nichols' research -- which focuses on Latino politics, political participation and identity politics -- reassesses the idea that threat is the best mobilizer for political participation. She argues that fear tactics are overused by political campaigns and should be coupled with messages of hope to be effective. There is a right away to sound an alarm without triggering despair or disillusion, Cruz Nichols says. Fear and cynicism can actually be demobilizing, because people feel like a situation is so bad, nothing they could do would make a difference. Cruz Nichols says Latino voters are more often the target of messaging that focuses on fear, such as xenophobic rhetoric and threats about anti-immigrant policies. During the current election cycle, with threats from the coronavirus and climate change joining xenophobia and anti-immigration sentiments at the forefront of Latino voter issues, Cruz Nichols says candidates could benefit from using hopeful messaging, and she says campaigns should use direct outreach to Latino voters via phone calls and text messaging to remind them that their voice matters. Mobilizing Latino voters should be top of mind for campaigns and political parties, according to Cruz Nichols, because they are the largest growing portion of the electorate and have the highest birth rate. This is the population that elected officials will be serving in every state, she says, and current messaging could shape how the demographic votes for generations to come.