Do Americans Really Want Permanent Daylight Saving Time?
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Congress can’t agree on much lately — except, apparently, their hatred of changing the clocks twice a year. On Tuesday, just after Americans set their clocks an hour forward over the weekend, the Senate unanimously passed a bill that would make daylight saving time permanent (although they still have to send it to the House for consideration).
Supporters of the bill presented it as a gift for a groggy country struggling to get its sleep back on track. And it’s true that the annual clock-changing ritual is not especially popular. A Monmouth University poll conducted March 10-14 found that only 35 percent of Americans wanted to keep resetting their clocks every fall and spring, while a YouGov poll conducted March 16 found that 59 percent of Americans wanted to see daylight saving time made permanent.
In other words, putting the whole country on daylight saving time year-round seems like a no-brainer. But we’ve been there before, and it’s still unclear whether Americans would actually like permanent daylight saving time if they got it. Because while longer afternoons and a consistent schedule are appealing, there’s a tradeoff — dark winter mornings.
In the past four years, support for making daylight saving time permanent has really gained steam, and not just in Congress. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 18 states have passed legislation or enacted resolutions that would switch to permanent daylight saving time if Congress allowed it (and in some cases, if surrounding states also made the change).
Of course, federal law doesn’t currently allow for permanent daylight saving time, so Congress has to take the lead, which is why the bill that just passed is a big step for proponents of daylight saving time.
Originally, daylight saving time was implemented during World War I as a way to conserve energy. The idea was that changing the clocks during the months with the most sunlight would encourage people to use less electricity. That doesn’t seem to be the case, though. Instead, the real winners of daylight saving time are businesses, since people are more likely to go out and shop when they have an extra hour or two of sunlight after work. So, a switch to permanent daylight saving time would be a boon for lots of industries — especially those for outdoor activities like sports and gardening.
What everyday people actually want, though, isn’t as clear. Polling shows that people generally don’t like the disruption of gaining or losing an hour twice a year, although their feelings might not be as strong as politicians make it out to be. In an Economist/YouGov poll conducted days before the clocks changed in November, for instance, only 21 percent of Americans said they were looking forward to the end of daylight saving time coming up, while 34 percent said they weren’t looking forward to it; 38 percent said they didn’t care. But there was more consensus on the concept of changing the clocks than on the solution: Among the 63 percent of people who wanted to eliminate the practice of gaining or losing an hour, 48 percent said they wanted permanent daylight saving time, 29 percent said they wanted permanent standard time and 21 percent had no preference.
Older Americans, it turns out, are also much more likely than younger Americans to dislike the time changes. The Economist/YouGov poll found that an overwhelming majority of respondents 65 and over (77 percent) wanted to eliminate the twice-yearly time change compared with less than half of respondents age 18 to 29 (42 percent). To be clear, those younger people aren’t strongly in favor of keeping the clock change: They were just about as likely to say they didn't want to change the clocks (27 percent) as they were to say they weren't sure (31 percent). But they were also less in favor of permanent daylight saving time than older people were, by 30 percent to 54 percent.
This division could hint at one of the big reasons why people really don’t like changing the clocks: It can be physically disruptive. Messing with sleep patterns can affect our eating habits or mental functioning throughout the day. And an abrupt shift like adding or losing an hour can be especially troublesome for older people, who may already have more fragmented sleep. It can also upset bedtimes and nap routines for small children, and even make pets fussy.
But in exchange for later sunsets, people have to be OK with dark mornings. And that’s not a universally popular tradeoff. Americans actually experimented with permanent daylight saving time starting in January 1974, and it didn’t go well. As reported in The Washington Post, support for year-round daylight saving time fell from a majority in late 1973 to around 30 percent in February and March 1974. According to Louis Harris polling that March, people were much more likely to say the change was a bad idea (43 percent) than a good one (19 percent). Parents who found themselves sending their children to school on pitch-black, cold winter mornings were particularly upset.1 But anyone who wakes up on the early side — which many Americans do — might also dislike slogging through an extra hour of darkness as they begin their day.
Some sleep scientists have argued that permanent standard time is more in sync with our body’s natural rhythms. We might like an extra hour of light at the end of the day, their argument goes, but we need that extra hour of morning light. And regional differences play a role, too. It’s probably no coincidence that one of permanent daylight saving time’s biggest boosters is Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, since states farther south aren’t running the risk of a 9 a.m. sunrise, even at the darkest times of year. But northern states, and states on the western edges of time zones, would face longer stretches of morning darkness.
Another possibility, of course, is to stop putting all the weight of adjusting to the seasons onto the clocks and instead tweak our own schedules to gradually move the start time of our day. But that’s harder to legislate, so we’re left with some pretty unsatisfying options. We can keep dealing with the hassle of changing the clocks — or we can accept that, for a few months at least, we’ll either start or end our days in the dark. Which would you choose?
Other polling bites
- Lower-income workers, in particular, have faced difficulties during the omicron surge of the coronavirus, according to a Feb. 9-21 poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation. In the KFF COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor, 60 percent of workers living in a household making less than $40,000 annually said they had missed work in the past three months due to concerns over COVID-19, versus 33 percent of workers whose households earned between $40,000 and $89,999 annually and 43 percent of workers whose households made $90,000 or more annually. Moreover, just 32 percent of workers in lower-income households received paid time off if they got sick from COVID-19, compared with 57 percent of workers in households making $40,000 or more per year. Because these lower-income workers lack paid time off, a greater share came to work sick — 29 percent of workers in households making less than $40,000 annually said they went to work while symptomatic or after exposure to COVID-19 because they couldn’t afford to take time off; just 6 percent of workers in households making $40,000 or more said they had to do the same.
- The share of Americans who call themselves fans of a motorsport has revved up in the past two years, according to polls from Morning Consult conducted Feb. 20-23, 2020, and March 5-7, 2022. While NASCAR still had the greatest share of fans, at 40 percent, Formula 1 saw its fan base increase the most (from 21 percent in 2020 to 28 percent in 2022), though MotoGP’s increase was a close second, at 6 percentage points. NASCAR, IndyCar and NHRA all gained fans, too, though by a more modest amount. The Netflix documentary series “Formula 1: Drive to Survive,” which chronicles the annual struggle for the Formula One World Championship, seems to be driving this boost in popularity. More than half of self-identified Formula 1 fans in the U.S. (53 percent) said the show, which developed a cult following since its debut in 2019, was a major or minor reason why they became a fan.
- Climate scientists sound far more pessimistic than the American public about the consequences of climate change, according to a September 2021 survey by Nature that polled authors and review editors of the latest report by the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and a March 10-13 U.S. News Poll of American adults by YouGov that asked the same questions. For example, while just 25 percent of Americans said they thought they would see catastrophic impacts of climate change in their lifetimes, 66 percent of the climate scientists who responded to the Nature survey said the same. Meanwhile, just 35 percent of Americans said they felt anxiety, grief or other distress due to concerns about climate change, versus 61 percent of the experts polled. That said, as to whether climate-related concerns might overrule one’s desire to have children, climate scientists were roughly in line with the general public, even though research has found that having one fewer child is the most effective thing you can do to reduce your carbon footprint. Just 17 percent of the climate scientists who answered the question said global warming has made them reconsider having children, versus 18 percent of the general public.
- According to a March 3-7 poll from Navigator, President Biden and the Democratic Party have an edge over the GOP when it comes to which party Americans trust more to “put the right people on the Supreme Court.” Forty-six percent of registered voters said they trusted Biden and the Democrats more, while 39 percent said they trusted Republicans more. A slight majority (51 percent) of voters said they would support the Senate confirming Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, including 73 percent of voters who said they were familiar with her, while 27 percent of all voters were undecided and 22 percent opposed the confirmation.
- Democrats and Republicans are largely united on U.S. economic and military strategy toward Russia, but they seem more divided on accepting Ukrainian refugees, according to a March 7-13 poll from the Pew Research Center. For instance, Pew found that an overwhelming majority of Democrats (88 percent) and Republicans (85 percent) supported “keeping strict economic sanctions on Russia,” while just over a third (35 percent of Democrats, 36 percent of Republicans) supported “taking military action even if it risks a nuclear conflict with Russia.” But the parties sharply diverged when asked about “admitting thousands of Ukrainian refugees into the U.S.” — 80 percent of Democrats supported this policy versus 57 percent of Republicans, a 23-point gap.
According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker,2 42.2 percent of Americans approve of the job Biden is doing as president, while 52.9 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of -10.7 points). At this time last week, 42.5 percent approved and 51.6 percent disapproved (a net approval rating of -9.1 points). One month ago, Biden had an approval rating of 41.4 percent and a disapproval rating of 53.0 percent, for a net approval rating of -11.6 points.
In our average of polls of the generic congressional ballot,3 Republicans currently lead by 2.2 percentage points (44.8 percent to 42.7 percent). A week ago, Republicans led Democrats by 2.1 points (44.8 percent to 42.7 percent). At this time last month, voters preferred Republicans by 2.1 points (44.8 percent to 42.6 percent).