Diverging Life Expectancies and Voting Patterns in the 2016 US Presidential Election

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Abstract

Objectives

To assess whether voting patterns in the 2016 US presidential election were correlated with long-run trends in county life expectancy.

Methods

I examined county-level voting data from the 2008 and 2016 presidential elections and assessed Donald Trump's share of the 2016 vote, change in the Republican vote share between 2008 and 2016, and changes in absolute numbers of Democratic and Republican votes. County-level estimates of life expectancy at birth were obtained for 1980 and 2014 from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

Results

Changes in county life expectancy from 1980 to 2014 were strongly negatively associated with Trump's vote share, with less support for Trump in counties experiencing greater survival gains. Counties in which life expectancy stagnated or declined saw a 10-percentage-point increase in the Republican vote share between 2008 and 2016.

Conclusions

Residents of counties left out from broader life expectancy gains abandoned the Democratic Party in the 2016 presidential election. Since coming to power, the Trump administration has proposed cuts to health insurance for the poor, social programs, health research, and environmental and worker protections, which are key determinants of population health. Health gaps likely will continue to widen without significant public investment in population health.

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