New research provides evidence that who a person voted for in the 2020 United States presidential election is linked to self-reported mental health outcomes. The study found that those who voted for Donald Trump were significantly less likely than their counterparts to report better mental health compared to before the 2020 election. The new findings appear in Political Studies Quarterly.
“There are several studies of previous presidential elections (2016, 2012, 2008) and health,” explained lead researcher Aaron Weinshenk, Ben J. and Joyce Rosenberg, professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.
“Kostas Panagopoulos and I were interested in looking at the 2020 election given the incredibly emotionally charged and contentious nature of the election (and its aftermath). In short, we wanted to know if people were influenced by the last presidential election. We focused on self-reported mental and general health, two important but distinct aspects of an individual’s health.”
The new study’s findings are based on a nationally representative survey of 1,750 American adults conducted between December 11-16, 2020. The survey asked respondents to indicate whether their general health and mental health were “better,” “about the same,” or “worse” now compared to before the 2020 election. He also collected data on a host of other variables, such as vote choice, belief that Joe Biden won the election, political ideology and socio-demographic factors.
Most people indicated that their general health and mental health had not changed significantly since the presidential election. Specifically, 87% reported that their general health was “about the same,” while 71% reported that their mental health was “about the same.”
However, the researchers observed significant differences in mental health, but not general health, between Trump supporters and Biden supporters.
Those who voted for Biden and those who agreed that Biden won the election were more likely than those who voted for Trump and those who disagreed that Biden won the election to report improved mental health. Among Biden voters, 23% report better mental health than before the election. Among Trump voters, only 7% reported better mental health. Similarly, among those who believe Biden won the election, 19% report better mental health. But among those who believe Biden lost the election, 7 percent report better mental health.
A logistic regression analysis provided evidence of a “negative and statistically significant effect showing that Trump voters reported poorer mental health than Biden voters after the 2020 election,” the researchers noted.
“Choices can affect individual health,” Weinschenk told PsyPost. “In the paper, for example, we find that those who supported the winning candidate reported better mental health than their counterparts. Similarly, those who agree that Biden won the presidential election are more likely than their counterparts to report better mental health. Importantly, these relationships hold even when we control for many other important political predispositions (eg, ideology, partisanship, political interests) and demographics (eg, age, gender, employed/unemployed, race, income, education, etc.). ).’
Respondents were also asked whether the political divide between Republicans and Democrats was much greater now, greater now, about the same, less now, or much less now than in the past.
“Although our primary focus was on the impact of support for the winning/losing candidate on health, we also examined whether perceptions of polarization are associated with mental and general health,” Weinschenk said. “We found that those who believe that polarization is much greater now than in the past are more likely than their counterparts to report poorer mental (but not general) health. Certain features of our current political system (beyond elections) appear to have an impact on health.”
As with any study, however, the new research comes with some caveats.
“We used data from a cross-sectional study,” explained Weinschenk. “That way, we only have measures at one point. So we don’t know how long the health changes we find last. It would be particularly valuable to collect data on the same respondents over time so that researchers can try to understand whether (and how) health outcomes change over time in response to political events and developments.
“It might be interesting to study how different types of elections (congressional, gubernatorial, etc.) affect health. It would be valuable to know whether the health effects of elections are widespread or limited to the most visible types of elections.
The study, Health and Election Outcomes: Evidence from the 2020 US Presidential Election, was authored by Kostas Panagopoulos and Aaron S. Weinschenk.