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Counties where more people died of so-called deaths of despair — from alcohol or drug abuse and suicide — voted more heavily for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election, new research shows.
A county-by-county analysis of death rates, causes of death and voting patterns shows that the death rate was nearly 8 percent higher between 2000 and 2015 in counties where Trump won the majority.
It was 15 percent higher in counties that swung more heavily Republican than in 2008, a team at Columbia University said Wednesday.
“Death rates may be important markers of the dissatisfaction, discouragement, hopelessness, and fear of cultural displacement that contributed to President Trump’s appeal, especially to the non-urban, white working class, Dr. Lee Goldman, chief executive of the Columbia University Irving Medical Center, and colleagues wrote in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.
"It's commonly argued that President Trump won by receiving more votes from people who have been left behind economically — especially older, less-educated, and less-urban, white voters," Goldman said in a statement.
"Based on our data, we can also say that changes in life expectancy were an independent factor in voting choices.”
“Death rates may be important markers of the dissatisfaction, discouragement, hopelessness, and fear of cultural displacement that contributed to President Trump’s appeal."
The findings fit in with other studies that have linked voting behavior with health. Jacob Bor of the Boston University School of Public Health found that in counties where life expectancy fell, voters were more likely to vote Republican.
And several studies have also shown that death rates are on the increase across the country. Rates of suicide, alcohol-related deaths and drug overdoses are all up, so much so that they’ve lowered average life expectancy for Americans.
The National Center for Health Statistics said 63,600 people died of drug overdoses in 2016.
“Age-adjusted death rates due to alcohol, drugs, and suicide increased nationally between 2000 and 2015, but they increased 2.5 times more in counties with an increasing Republican percentage vote,” Goldman’s team wrote.
“We shouldn't underestimate the degree to which some portions of the country have been left behind in terms of their health. And it's not surprising that health disparities correspond with voting behavior,” Goldman said.
Trump lost the popular vote to Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, but won the electoral college vote.
“The outcome of the 2016 presidential election is commonly attributed to socioeconomic and ethnic/racial issues, but health issues, including ‘deaths of despair,’ may also have contributed,” the team concluded.