Thursday, September 14, 2006

Does politics matter for health outcomes?

Earlier today Matt Kahn, an environmental economist at the Fletcher School posted Life Expectancy by State: Selection or Treatment?

In his post, Matt wonders whether "living in the District of Columbia really that bad for one's longevity (treatment)? Or do people with less health capital move to D.C (selection)?"

I can't answer that question, but the state level data for health outcomes immediately brought to mind a different question. How do political outcomes affect life expectancy?

After quickly downloading Matt's data and matching it up with the results of the 2004 presidential election ( I was able to create a STATA spreadsheet with two variables: additional years of life expectancy* and percentage vote for George W. Bush.

Using the basic regression function (add_years = percent_bush + constant), there was not a strong correlation between politics and health: .0022969 and not statistically significant.

Taking a closer look, it seemed that a few outliers might really skew results. When I looked only at states in the 10-90% distribution of health outcomes (dropping Hawaii, Minnesota, Utah, Connecticut, Massachusetts on the high end and South Carolina, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and the District of Columbia on the low end), suddenly my hypothesis seemed a little more reasonable: -.0378876 correlation coefficient and significant at the 10% level.

Obviously I'm not the first person to point out that red states do worse than blue states on general health outcomes, but I am surprised how small the relation actually is when looking at life expectancies. And what about the tails of the distribution? HI, MN, CT, and MA are all strong blue states, but UT is the most pro-Bush state in the country. SC, AL, LA, and MI are all strong red states, but DC is the most anti-Bush voting unit in the country.

Obviously Washington DC is not at all like the other states, but Utah does seem to fit into a distinct trend. Great Plains and Western states that are strongly pro-Bush (Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, the Dakotas, Kansas) have reasonably good health outcomes, while the former Confederate states have uniformly horrible comparative health outcomes. Maybe we should call this the Jefferson Davis Health Corollary?

*Additional years of life expectancy ranged from 0 in the District of Columbia to 8 in Hawaii.


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