An Interesting Read: Is Liberalism Good for Your Health?

Since I have been too busy lately to write an in depth article about local political issues, I am once again posting another interesting article about a new ” political epidemiology” study.

Chris Mooney wrote an article on Mother Jones1 about a new study that claims that there is a relationship between a state’s political outlook and the residents health.  Mooney writes:

The paper2—recently published in the journal Social Science and Medicine by political scientist Mitchel Herian of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and his colleagues—looks at how each US state fares when it comes to the health of its residents. And they find that “the presence of a more liberal government is related to a higher rate of reported health, a lower rate of reported smoking, lower BMI, and fewer numbers of days with poor health.”……..

Why might liberal states have healthier residents? The hypothesis that Herian’s paper set out to test is quite simple: Democratic or liberal states do more to make their populations healthier—for example, through spending more on health care programs and general social safety net programs. And those policies work, or at least mostly work; hence, their populations are indeed healthier. “We’re definitely talking about the election of Democrats leading to better health outcomes because they adopt policies designed to lead to the better well being of individuals,” says Herian. (Conservatives: Before you cite the Oregon Medicaid study to claim that these types of program don’t actually work to make people healthier, see here.)

The chart below shows the relationship between the politics of a state and how the residents perceive their health

general-health (1)

Mooney describes how the data was collected:

To determine a state’s level of liberalism, the researchers used an index that takes into account factors ranging from how interest groups like the NRA and Americans for Democratic Action rate the state’s congressional representatives to the composition of the state legislature.)

For health data, meanwhile, Herian and his colleagues used the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2010 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), a vast survey that gave the study a sample size of over 450,000 people. One question in the BRFSS asks people about their “general health”: Individuals are asked to rate their health on a scale of 1 to 5, from “poor” to “excellent.” The average state scores on this question are plotted above. As you can see, while there are some exceptions, the pattern is pretty clear overall: Liberal states tend to fare better on this health measure, and many conservative states do worse.

This liberalism-health trend also holds to be true when the amount of sick days are analyzed.

poor-health (1)

Mooney goes on to say that he understands correlation does not necessarily signify causation, and that Herian and his colleagues controlled for other issues that may bias the analysis.

Read the Mother Jones article and the original Social Science and Medicine paper for more info.

I find these sort of  studies fascinating.  Data taken in mass always has some information that can be valuable.  Although I don’t think a couple of data points should ever be used to justify a point of view, such as looking at the state of Connecticut versus Oklahoma only…this would not tell you very much…no trend really could be identified.  When looking at all the states together on one chart shows a nice trend.

This may not be breaking science, but in this day and age of the ongoing debate over the benefits of Obamacare and the program’s medicaid expansion, this study supports the notion that liberal government programs may indeed lead to a healthier population.

multitudo sapientium sanitas orbis



1Chris Mooney, “Is Liberalism Good for Your Health?”.  Mother Jones, March 25, 2014.

2Mitchel N. Herian, et al, “Social capital, ideology, and health in the United States“.  Social Science and Medicine, vol 105, March 2014, pg 30-37.


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