The Washington Post recently ran an article with a provocative headline: “Can Politics Kill You? Research Says the Answer Increasingly is Yes.” Here’s the lede:
As the coronavirus pandemic approaches its third full winter, two studies reveal an uncomfortable truth: The toxicity of partisan politics is fueling an overall increase in mortality rates for working-age Americans.
In one study, researchers concluded that people living in more-conservative parts of the United States disproportionately bore the burden of illness and death linked to COVID. The other, which looked at health outcomes more broadly, found that the more conservative a state’s policies, the shorter the lives of working-age people.
It turns out that it is state-level policies that determine these health outcomes. States — those “laboratories of democracy” so often lauded by more conservative politicians– shape the environments in which we live our lives in more ways than we commonly recognize, and those environments have a significant effect on people’s well-being and longevity. As the article notes,
Some states have expanded their social safety nets, raising minimum wages and offering earned income tax credits while using excise taxes to discourage behaviors — such as smoking — that have deleterious health consequences. Other states have moved in the opposite direction.
Indiana is one of those “opposite direction” states.
Covid death rates were 11 percent higher in states with Republican-controlled governments and 26 percent higher in areas where voters lean conservative. Similar results emerged about hospital ICU capacity when the concentration of political power in a state was conservative.
Researchers from Harvard found that the disparities in rates of death and disease aren’t limited to COVID: In states where a “chasm of inequality” persists, communities of color face a much higher risk of chronic conditions that leave immune systems vulnerable to multiple serious diseases.
Another study calculated that, in 2019, if all states had implemented liberal policies on the environment, gun safety, criminal justice, health and welfare, labor, marijuana, and economic and tobacco taxes, at least 170,000 lives would have been be saved. On the other hand, if states all had conservative versions of those policies, 217,000 more people would have died.
It’s likely to get worse in those Red states, thanks to the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
With abortion services no longer legal nationwide, university researchers have estimated that maternal deaths could increase by up to 25 to 30 percent, worsening the nation’s maternal mortality and morbidity crisis. Americans live shorter lives than people in peer nations, in part because it is the worst place among high-income countries to give birth.
The stark differences between Republican and Democratic responses to COVID may have benefitted Democrats politically, as well as medically.
Some midterm election postmortems suggested that the significantly higher numbers of Republican deaths had diminished Republican turnout sufficiently to help Democratic candidates win tight races. While most knowledgable observers discounted that likelihood, or opined that it operated only in extremely close contests, researchers did identify a less obvious way in which COVID death rate disparities benefited Democrats politically.
Data from the U.S. Postal Service and Census Bureau shows how the pandemic drove urban professionals who were able to work remotely — disproportionately Democrats — out of coastal, progressive cities to seek more space or recreational amenities in the nation’s suburbs and Sun Belt. This moved liberals out of electoral districts where Democrats reliably won by large margins into many purple regions that had the potential to swing with just small changes to the map.
Politico looked at several close races in places that had gained population during the pandemic–races that seemed to confirm that hypothesis. One was in Arizona.
In one of the most watched 2022 races, Arizona’s Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake — an ardent election denier and so-called Trump in heels — was expected to narrowly defeat Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs. FiveThirtyEight simulations gave her 2-to-1 odds and a 2.2-point margin.
But Arizona’s most populous region, Maricopa County gained nearly 100,000 people since 2018, and Democrats’ margins rose by 17 points since that year. Lake lost by just 17,000 votes.
A major study published by the National Bureau of Economic Researchers concluded that there was a “substantially higher excess death rates for registered Republicans when compared to registered Democrats, with almost all of the difference concentrated in the period after vaccines were widely available.” Overall, the study found that the excess death rate for Republicans was 76%, higher than the excess death rate for Democrats.
Despite the overwhelming evidence of vaccine efficacy, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis–object of the GOP’s current enthusiasm– is ramping up his vendetta against vaccination. DeSantis is a perfect representative of today’s GOP, a party peddling policies that really are killing people.