Study finds Republicans report better health than Democrats

For immediate release: March 5, 2009

Boston, MA — A new study from the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) finds that individuals who identify themselves as Republicans report lower rates of poor health than those who identify as Democrats. The study appears in advance online as a research letter on March 5, 2009 on the International Journal of Epidemiology website.

“Previous studies in various industrialized countries have shown that areas in which the majority are conservatives tend to have lower mortality levels. Often this difference has been interpreted to reflect the fact that conservative areas tend to have higher levels of socioeconomic status,” said S V Subramanian, lead author and associate professor of society, human development and health at HSPH. “This new study correlates political inclination and health at the individual level and shows that, in the United States, socioeconomic differences between Republican and Democrats explain only a part of the health difference between the two groups. There seems to be something else about Republicans that keeps them healthier.”

Subramanian and his co-author, Jessica Perkins, a doctoral student in the Department of Health Policy at Harvard University, analyzed data from the 1972-2006 General Social Surveys. Respondents were asked questions about their health, whether they smoked and their political inclination. After controlling for demographic and socioeconomic factors, the study found that Republicans were 26% less likely to report poor health than Democrats. Republicans were also 15% less likely to be smokers compared with Democrats.

The authors hypothesize that the better health reported by Republicans may reflect the Republican value of individual responsibility, which may lead to health-promoting behaviors. They also note that Republicans may exhibit greater religiosity than Democrats, which could lead to greater health-promoting conditions, such as stronger social ties and networks. The researchers conclude that further research is required to determine whether a person’s political ideology is an independent risk factor or a marker of something else.

S V Subramanian is supported by the National Institutes of Health Career Development Award (NHLBI 1 K25 HL081275).

“Are Republicans Healthier Than Democrats,” S V Subramanian and Jessica Perkins, International Journal of Epidemiology, online March 5, 2009.