BOSTON — For all of the odd explanations for American voting patterns, here’s a new one. Those who supported President Donald Trump in 2016 may have done so partly because they suffer from a shortened life expectancy, a new study finds.
Researchers at Boston University looked at county-level voting data in both the 2008 and 2016 elections, and compared life expectancy rates from the same districts between 1980 and 2014.
While overall rates increased by five years during the period examined, these gains were not distributed evenly.
“In the last 30 years, there’s been a sharp divergence in life expectancy across US counties,” explains lead researcher Jacob Bor in a press release. “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.”
Between the 2008 and 2016 elections, counties in which the average life expectancy had increased by less than three years over the prior three decades saw a 10 percent jump in the share of Republican voters.
Meanwhile, in counties where average lifespan had grown by at least seven years, Democrats increased their representation at the ballot box by 3.5 percent.
Furthermore, there was a correlation between life expectancy and voter turnout: counties with above-average life expectancy gains counted 1.3 million more ballots in 2016, while those with below-average expectancy gains counted 1.9 million fewer ballots.
Republicans overwhelmingly gained supporters from areas with underwhelming life expectancy gains, while the inverse was true for Democrats.
“In the 2016 election, in counties that had been left behind in life expectancy gains, residents abandoned the Democratic Party, voting for Trump or not voting at all,” Bor notes. “What we now need to understand is why.”
While there may ultimately be many reasons that those in less prosperous regions voted for Trump, it is clear that “policymakers [need] to try to address the health needs of these populations,” states Bor.
The study’s findings were published in the American Journal of Public Health.