Friday, March 13, 2009

Republicans healthier than Democrats?

Statistics savant Nate Silver catches this study examining the influence of political ideology on one's health. In a meta-analysis, covering over three decades of research (1972-2006), the authors found that those with more conservative ideology (Republicans) are generally more healthy than those with progressive ideology (Democrats). Silver points out - I got lost in the jargon and stat-speak - that Republicans are 25% less likely than Republicans to report poor health, and a major contributing factor is smoking. Saith the study's authors:
Our analysis suggests that there might be fundamental health differences between individuals who identify with a conservative political party and individuals who identify with a liberal political party. Specifically, individuals affiliating with the republican party report lower rates of poor health. Crucially, this association does not seem to be due to republicans, on average, having higher socio-economic status (SES) than democrats. The observation that republicans enjoy better health status may reflect the core republican value of individual responsibility, which could translate into increased adherence to health-promoting behaviours. This is indirectly supported by our analysis, which shows that, on average, republicans
are less likely to be smokers compared with democrats after accounting for several factors including race/ethnicity and SES. It may also be that republicans exhibit greater religiosity (beyond attendance) compared with democrats, which may lead to
health promoting social conditions such as enhanced social ties and networks.
Whether one’s political ideology is an independent risk factor, or a marker of something else, clearly requires further research. It does not seem implausible, however, that conservative values at the individual level may be health promoting. (emphasis mine)
To the study's conclusion, Silver is very skeptical, but he acknowledges that the study likely points to some significant underlying truth:
But, whatever ultimately comes of these findings, I'm supportive of the general idea of looking at correlations from these databases. There are lots of possible dead ends and wild goose chases (and this might be one of them) but it's certainly a step up from the bald speculation we often see, and it can sometimes lead somewhere interesting.
Actually, I'm not that surprised of these findings, as it is similar to studies showing the benefits of religion. And, I have already suspected that Republicans are happier than Democrats. Health and happiness go hand in hand. It does appear, however, that being religious and being conservative do provide people with physiological and psychological benefits.

But being right has its own cross to bear. :-)

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