Striking new research, published this month in Science Daily, shows that people who lived in Democratic states and counties had an 11% reduction in mortality over a twenty year period from 2000 to 2019 (pre-COVID). Significantly, the study controlled for factors like race, age, exercise and pre-existing health conditions.
According to NPR’s Allison Aubrey, “the leading theory on what has changed is that as policymaking has shifted more to the states, and as political polarization has intensified, the policies passed by Republican-leaning states compared to those passed in Democratic states have led to this greater divide in health outcomes.”
“Policies such as the expansion of Medicaid, so, access to health care, policies on minimum wage, tobacco control, gun legislation, drug addiction, a whole range of policies have an impact on health and mortality rates. Democratic states have supported more of these. But Republican states have gone the other direction.”
Surprisingly, this research holds even for people living outside of the urban/rural divide, and it does extend beyond Republican voters tending to be older (a factor controlled for during the research). The “mortality gap” persisted even when researchers looked at suburban, and even urban, areas with higher densities of Republican voters.
“The more conservative the policies, the larger the threat to life expectancy.”
According to Aubrey, now quoting VCU Dr. Steven Woolf, “He points to New York and Oklahoma. In the mid-’90s, life expectancy was about the same in these two states. Now New York is near the top of the list when it comes to life expectancy, Oklahoma is near the bottom. He says part of this is likely due to policy differences.”
One fish, two fish, the red fish is the sick fish
This latest study adds to previous studies that also showed a lower life expectancy for those living in states with more conservative policies; like this 2020 paper published in the Milbank Quarterly analyzing 45 years of data: “Results show that changes in life expectancy during 1970-2014 were associated with changes in state policies on a conservative-liberal continuum, where more liberal policies expand economic regulations and protect marginalized groups. States that implemented more conservative policies were more likely to experience a reduction in life expectancy. …We also estimated that US life expectancy would be 2.8 years longer among women and 2.1 years longer among men if all states enjoyed the health advantages of states with more liberal policies.”
So, (as absolutely wild as it sounds), having expanded access to quality, affordable health care and having common sense gun control laws has a measurable impact on how long a human will live.