Diverging Life Expectancy Trends Tied to 2016 Voting Choices

Ever since the unexpected results of the 2016 presidential election, political analysts have sought [...]to understand what factors played into voters' decision making. Now, a new study by an SPH researcher shows how voting patterns correlated with the nation’s growing geographic health divides, with Donald Trump winning more votes in counties that have seen lower gains in life expectancy.

Writing in the American Journal of Public Health, Jacob Bor, assistant professor of global health, reviewed county-level voting data from the 2008 and 2016 presidential elections and county-level estimates of life expectancy at birth for 1980 and 2014 from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

Life expectancy in the US rose by about five years between 1980 and 2014, but the gains were not even. “In the last 30 years, there’s been a sharp divergence in life expectancy across US counties,” Bor says. “Some counties have gained a full decade of life expectancy. Others have really been left behind, with zero gains or even falling life expectancy in this period.”

Bor found counties in which life expectancy rose less than three years saw a nearly 10 percentage point increase in the Republican vote share between 2008 and 2016. In counties where life expectancy rose more than seven years, Democrats saw a 3.5 percentage point increase.

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