New study: Liberals outlive conservatives
Liberals live longer than conservatives in the United States, a new study suggests.
The results come as a surprise because previous research has consistently found that conservatives in other countries and Republicans in the United States report being happier and healthier – traits usually linked to longer lives. Also, communities with high conservative or Republican election turnouts tend to have lower death rates.
But previous U.S. studies did not separate political ideology from party affiliation or look at whether conservatives actually died at a slower clip than liberals of similar education and income, says Roman Pabayo, a community health researcher at the University of Nevada, Reno.
The new study, published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, does all that and gives the edge to liberals.
"We were surprised," says Pabayo, who led the study as a fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health. But, he says, the results are believable because they depend on individual death records – a "more valid measure" than the self-reports on health and the community death rates used in previous studies.
The new study included more than 32,000 adults who identified themselves as Democrats, Republicans, independents or other, and as liberal, moderate or conservative.
Researchers were able to track which of them died, and how quickly, over an average period of 15 years.
Results: Self-proclaimed conservatives and moderates were 6% more likely to die during follow-up than self-proclaimed liberals with otherwise similar traits, including age, sex and socioeconomic status. When sorted by party, Republicans and Democrats had similar death rates; independents had lower death rates.
The study included what people said about their health and happiness, but those factors did not seem to explain the differences, Pabayo says. Republicans claimed to be healthier and happier, just as they did in previous studies; conservatives claimed to be happier, but not healthier.
The study did not look at health care access or health habits such as smoking, drinking and diet. But it suggests some traits associated with identifying as a liberal are linked to longer life, Pabayo says. Those could go beyond health habits to include "how you look at life, how you react to adversity," he says. "We need to figure out what's really going on."
One researcher not involved in the new study is unconvinced. The death differences found are "very small" and the idea that self-reported health is not a good predictor of death is "very inconsistent" with other research, says Subu V. Subramanian, a professor of population health and geography at Harvard.
His study of Republicans and Democrats not only found that Republicans reported better health but that they were 15% less likely to smoke. Smoking is a major cause of illness and death.
In general, he says, Republicans and conservatives tend to be more religious and "more tied into social networks and organizations." Those ties are thought to promote better health.
John Feehery, a former House Republican aide who is president of Quinn Gillespie Communications, knocks down the idea that liberals outlive conservatives. "They don't live longer," he says. "It just seems that way."
Political satirist Daniel Kurtzman, author of How to Win a Fight with a Conservative and How to Win a Fight with a Liberal, believes the findings. "Did they really need a study?" he asks. "Conservatives like guns, tobacco, fossil fuels, deep-fried endangered caribou." Liberals, he said, "like yoga, weed, clean air, free-range kale ... and giving everyone free health care."
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