Photograph by Charlie Riedel, AP
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Custodian Ray Keen sets the clocks in the Clay County Courthouse in Kansas back an hour in advance of the end of daylight saving time. This year, DST ends at 2 a.m. Sunday.

Photograph by Charlie Riedel, AP

The Politics of Daylight Saving Time

The debate around whether to fall back and spring forward has been heating up in state legislatures.

U.S. clocks fall back this Sunday to mark the end of daylight saving time (DST)—but lawmakers in many states are increasingly trying to avoid the time change.

In the last year, fourteen state legislatures have debated bills aimed at changing the way we keep time, according to Tufts University professor Michael Downing, author of Spring Forward: The Annual Madness of Daylight Saving Time. He says that’s an unusually high number.

States are free to debate the issue, since the federal government doesn’t require them to follow the time change. And currently, Hawaii, Arizona (except the Navajo Nation), and a handful of U.S. territories don’t bother with DST.

There are a number of reasons why the other states might not want to adjust their clocks.

Daylight Saving Time 101

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The Business Lobby

Downing says the recent opposition to daylight saving time—sometimes called daylight savings time—isn’t a partisan issue.

“In almost all cases these are Republican-controlled legislatures [debating whether to end DST], so this idea puts them at odds with their allies in the business community who traditionally oppose any changes to DST.”

Businesses tend to support DST because the sudden change produces an extra hour of evening daylight and induces people to go out and spend.

“So these initiatives begin with an anti-Federal impulse, stopping the government from forcing us to do this bothersome task twice a year," Downing says.

“But then in almost every state it's been the case that the bills eventually failed because of the opposition of the chamber of commerce.”

A Sense of Connection, And of Confusion

Much of the debate about DST comes from the mountain and central time zones, which are each an hour off from the nearest coast.

“I think that people in those time zones feel cut off from either the West Coast or the East Coast in a really profound way,” Downing says.

This is an old argument. In 1915, Detroit moved itself from the central to the eastern time zone, after lobbying from a group of local notables called the More-Daylight Club.  

But when legislators debate whether to stop changing the clocks, they have to decide if they want to stay on DST or avoid it. For central states, not falling back while the East Coast does would put them on the same clock as New York and Washington, D.C. for half the year. For mountain states, not springing forward would let them keep the same hours as Los Angeles.

"What's fascinating about this is that all of this legislation is evenly split between people who want to stop the change by going on DST permanently and those who want to stop the change by going on standard time permanently,” Downing says.

It appears that even some individual politicians aren't sure which option they prefer. “In Idaho, the House Majority Leader (R) Mike Moyle wrote and submitted legislation in 2014 suggesting a move to permanent standard time,” Downing says. “And then, of course, in 2015 he wrote and submitted legislation that was to consider going on permanent daylight saving time.”

“I don't care which one it is,” Moyle told the Spokesman-Review. He just hopes for a resolution, echoing the sentiments of many Americans who suggest in surveys that we simply “pick a time and stick with it.” (Related: Time to Move On? The Case Against Daylight Saving Time)

It doesn't seem likely to happen soon. But U.S. politicians and their constituents aren't the only ones suffering clock confusion. DST annually causes similar headaches around the world. This year, for example, Turkey's clocks were set to fall back on October 25 but the government postponed the move until November 8 to provide more evening light for voters in upcoming elections. That threw a wrench into established Muslim prayer calendars and had many of the faithful feeling a bit exasperated with 'Erdogan time.'

Turkey has also felt a more secular impact. Many automated clocks and systems shifted as scheduled, causing inaccurate timekeeping and a surge in the trending hashtag #saatkac—“what's the time?” (Related: Daylight Saving Time: 7 Surprising Things You May Not Know)

Wherever you are, if you're hoping to end the confusion, clocks are set to spring forward again on March 13, 2016. That leaves plenty of time for further debate.