Fall 2016

Health and voting

Illustration by dan page

People in poor health are less likely to vote, according to a growing body of research. But do voting patterns vary by specific diagnosis?  

That’s a question that Sarah Gollust, McKnight Land-Grant Professor in the U’s School of Public Health, and colleague Wendy Rahn, a professor of political science, recently explored by sifting through 2009 survey data.  

In addition to providing information about their general health and medical conditions, respondents were asked if they had voted in the 2008 election. Gollust and Rahn found that people with a cancer diagnosis were 3 percentage points more likely to vote than individuals with noncancerous diseases. Heart disease was associated with a lower chance of voting, they found, and three diseases—diabetes, asthma, and arthritis—were not related to voter turnout.

The data provided few clues about the reasons for the variations in voting behavior. But Gollust speculates that the community that provides support to cancer patients is better organized than the communities that care for people with diabetes, asthma, and other chronic conditions.  

“Cancer patients have access to a unique set of resources: support groups, the Race for the Cure, and so forth,” Gollust says. “If you get a cancer diagnosis, in some ways, you gain more social connectedness. And those contacts may urge you to vote.”