As the coronavirus pandemic approaches its third winter, two studies have revealed an inconvenient truth. The toxicity of partisan politics leads to an overall increase in the death rate among working-age Americans.
In one study, researchers concluded that people who live in the most conservative areas of the United States bear a disproportionate burden of disease and death associated with COVID-19. Others, who look more broadly at health outcomes, find that the more conservative a country's policies are, the shorter the life of working-age people.
The causes are many, but increasingly, state policies, not just federal ones, are beginning to shape the economic, family, environmental, and behavioral conditions that affect societal well-being. Several states have expanded social safety nets, raised the minimum wage, and introduced income tax credits, using special taxes to discourage behaviors such as smoking that do not have catastrophic health consequences. Other countries went in the opposite direction.
The result of this increased polarization is clear, researchers say. The general health situation of the nation is deteriorating. Americans can expect to live as they did in 1996, 76.1 years, with lower life expectancy due to higher rates of chronic disease, maternal mortality and COVID.
“I did not do this research to be partisan, just to support one side or the other,” said Nancy Krieger, a social epidemiologist at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and an author of one of the studies. “It is about analyzing the behavior of different actors, some having more power than others in setting standards, making inquiries and allocating resources.”
Krieger said it's normal for people to ask elected officials. "Are they doing what they need to do to protect our health?"
Harvard researchers analyzed data from April 2021 to March 2022 on COVID-19 mortality and stress in hospital intensive care units in 435 congressional districts. They also looked at congressmen's overall voting records to see how they voted and whether they voted for all four anti-coronavirus bills. The state governor and the legislature are controlled by one party.
The study, published this month in The Lancet Regional Health-Americas, found that the more conservative the voting record of congressmen and state legislators, the higher the death rate from COVID-19, although characteristics of race, education and income were not affecting congressional preparedness. for vaccination as well as fees.
The death rate from COVID is 11% higher in states with Republican-controlled governments and 26% higher in areas where voters lean more conservatively. Similar results are seen for the capacity of hospital facilities when the concentration of political power is conservative.
Krieger said these findings cannot be explained as characteristics of the economic and social conditions of people living in different regions. “It is kind of above the demographics of the constituency that the members represent. It shows that something is going on in the political processes related to the model of the political choices of elected officials.”
Public policy, along with public opinion about masks, vaccines, and other factors, is helping to change the pattern of COVID deaths in the country.
An analysis of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's COVID data from April 2020 to this summer found that the age-specific death rate from COVID changed. At the start of the pandemic, communities of color, especially black communities, bore a disproportionate burden. But by mid-October 2021, that pattern had changed, as the death rate among white Americans, the core of the Republican base, at times exceeded the death rate among other groups.
However, the disproportionate burden of death and disease extends beyond COVID; Public health experts say inequality puts communities of color at greater risk for chronic diseases that weaken the immune system, a reflection of systemic racism.
“Public health and medical behavior is often understood as behavior at the individual level. Politicians are acting themselves. Institutes are acting,” Krieger said. “If your representative in Congress is encouraging you to wear a mask or not to wear a mask, that's a whole different message.”
Divisions in American politics are becoming increasingly sharp and polarized, but this has not always been the case.
From the 1930s to the 1970s, huge investments were made to improve the lives of vulnerable people across the country. The Social Security Act of 1935 Medicare and Medicaid Act of 1965 Before these federal programs, the nation was part of state programs, said Jake Grumbach, a professor of political science at the University of Washington, who wrote a study on the national policy implications. . on mortality among working-age adults was published in PLOS One in October.
Everyone has seen the benefits, Grumbach said, but federal laws of the past decade have "hit the poorest states hard," and "you see convergence among all states" in terms of health outcomes.
Then came the collapse of the New Deal coalition. Nationalization of the media. Raise money in politics. and the social upheavals of the 1960s and 1970s—the civil rights movement, the women's movement, the sexual revolution, environmentalism.
"All of those things contributed to the polarization," Grumbach said, adding that the divide "began in the 1990s" and has been around since 2010, "which is a period of real radicalization of the Republican Party." . . What is Trump's height?