Daylight-Saving Time Polling Shows Americans Utterly Divided

  • 62% percent of Americans want to stop changing clocks, but don’t agree on a permanent solution.
  • No policy — permanent daylight-saving time, permanent standard time, keep switching back and forth — is near a majority.
  • Americans say they want morning safety and better sleep, but prefer policies that harm that.

The annual spring forward to daylight-saving time is coming up this weekend for most Americans, resparking the decades-old debate about what to do about our clocks. New data from a YouGov poll indicates that this issue may be fundamentally unsolvable, with Americans locked into contradictory positions. 

YouGov conducted a public opinion poll this week to see where Americans currently stand on the issue. It found that 6 in 10 Americans (62%) want to see the changing of the clocks eliminated entirely, while only 21% definitively want to keep the current practice.

Of those 62% that indicated they would like to get rid of the practice of changing the clocks entirely, exactly half of them prefer the option of later sunrises and sunsets, as in year-round daylight-saving time, compared with 31% preferring year-round standard time.

Interestingly, respondents in the West are 14 percentage points more likely to prefer permanent standard time compared to respondents from the Northeast.

The problem is that, when taking a look at the overall American public opinion, there is not anywhere near a majority. 

Only 31% of the public want permanent daylight-saving time, 21% of Americans prefer to keep the status quo of changing the clocks, 19% call for a change to permanent standard time, and the rest of Americans are undecided about what changes to make, if any.

Even under the most generous assumptions – if those 11% who want to stop changing the clocks but don’t care which of DST or Standard Time is picked are lumped in with the 31% who want to change to permanent DST – that 42% is still very far from a majority. 

In order to reach any consensus about a future change, the country would, at best, have to persuade a whole swath of undecided voters, or, at worst, have to force the will of a minority on the nation at large.

The data also reveals something that complicates this entire poll: Americans say they prefer daylight-saving time, but when asked what they want out of a time change, the most important values are the ones they’d get under permanent standard time.

What Americans really want

Proponents of switching to permanent daylight-saving time hinge their arguments around the benefits that come from having more sunshine in the evenings, and thereby longer seeming days. On an individual level, the impact of this has been reported to be an positive change in people’s moods, increased productivity in the evenings, and more daily activity level. On a larger scale, this promotes safety at night on the roads, a boost in the economy for shopping and recreation in evenings, and a purported decrease in crime.

Those that are in favor of permanent standard time are more concerned with human biology and health, arguing that standard time is most in line with human biological circadian rhythms and promotes the most healthy and natural sleep cycles. They also argue that in contrast to DST, standard time promotes safety in the morning, which is particularly important for early morning commutes to school and work – a stark reminder of the failure of a permanent DST measure in 1974

As for the current system of springing forward to DST every second Sunday in March and falling back to standard time each first Sunday in November, it has one key advantage: incumbency. Any change would require a complex overhaul of computer systems and the potential for complications during a switchover. 

When asked by the poll to rank those benefits, the ones favoring permanent standard time won out, big. The three most important values for respondents – keeping the time in line with circadian rhythms, promoting morning safety, and better sleep – are all specifically benefits of permanent Standard Time over permanent daylight-saving time.

This indicates that there is a clear misalignment between what Americans think they want versus what they actually want in practice. 

The politics of the situation

The US first adopted daylight-saving time with as Uniform Time Act in 1918 to save energy, followed by another federal policy that was enacted in 1966. The current enactment of start and end dates of DST was part of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which every state except for Hawaii and Arizona observe.

On a federal level, there have been political moves towards ending the status quo and pushing for permanent daylight-saving time. 

Last year on March 15, the Senate passed the Sunshine Protection Act of 2021 by unanimous consent. However, the bill died in the House amid renewed debate over whether year-round DST was the safest, healthiest, and most economical option for the country. 

Just last week, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) who spearheaded the 2021 act, reintroduced legislation to make DST permanent, which he argues would put an end to the “antiquated practice of changing clocks twice a year.” Currently, the prospects for the bill remain unlikely as neither chamber of Congress has a majority supporting the bill, there is no clear consensus among the public, and there is stark opposition led by sleep scientists and proponents of permanent standard time.

Beyond the federal scope, state legislatures continue to grapple with policy questions regarding the changing of the clocks. Since 2015, at least 450 bills and resolutions have been introduced in almost every state regarding either standard time or daylight saving time. 

In the last five years, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 19 states have enacted legislation or passed resolutions that would implement year-round daylight-saving time if Congress allowed it (and in some cases, if surrounding states enact the same legislation). 

Given the polling data, stagnation and several state-by-state actions are the likeliest outcome for the foreseeable future when it comes to this, the most divisive issue of our time.

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